All Change, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It suddenly struck her that she must have had something to do with why her husband had left her.
There are comprehensive plot revelations in this post. I feel that this should not spoil it: it is a book to read more than once, to revel in the limpid English, the relationships, the characters, the pathos and humour. What would Elizabeth Jane Howard wish to say, aged ninety, publishing two months before her death?
I have to quote lines to you. She wiped Sid’s face where her tears had fallen and then laid quietly beside her. As though by some magic, she was filled with love for this friend and lover who had given her so much. The feeling was intense and it came like a balm that soothed her heart. I was weeping there. How wonderful to do something so beautifully, and move people with ones skills: how wonderful to still have the energy to do so.
The Radio 4 dramatisation of earlier novels was narrated by Penelope Wilton, and some of the lines now come to me in her voice: Queen’s English with a dash of hyperlect. It is fitting.
The last time he did that, the wretched man had to go to hospital to be stitched up. LOL. So much weight has been given to those last two words, the build-up over so long! There is a wonderful mix in four pages of farce and reality, sympathy and insight, real mercurial feelings, and Love. The couple, who love each other, both have a shock from sexual temptation, and though it makes things difficult, and not quite the same, it strengthens their love. In the next chapter, money worries weaken the love of another couple.
This is a novel about death. It starts with a death, has a death scene in the middle, and its ground bass is the incompetence with which the three brothers run the business their father created, driving it to bankruptcy. While they would say they recognise the need to live less expensively, at the end, their actions indicate the lesson has not quite hit home yet. There is a death off-stage, of a woman who dies demented, cursing her meagre benefactress.
It is a novel about life. There is a baby. A child who loves his pet rat expands his menagerie; a woman starts to forgive her ex-husband; a man finds his unexpected vocation, having been depressed and unable to settle at anything, and then has a bout of life-changing, eye-opening gay sex. A girl grows from a sulky teenager to a beautiful young woman. Amid the change and decay, it is full of hope.
Hilary Mantel: “Elizabeth Jane Howard is one of those novelists who shows, through her work, what the novel is for… She helps us to open our eyes and our hearts.”