Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Marking Time

Marking Time, the sequel to The Light Years, by Elizabeth Jane Howard, is rather an ideal sequel. It preserves many of the good qualities of the first book--the large cast of extremely well-drawn characters and the way they are woven into the historical fact of World War II--but takes these qualities and expands upon them, goes deeper into individual characters. The first book basically held little that I did not remember from the miniseries, but by the second book there is enough detail amassed about the characters that of necessity there are things the miniseries was not able to cover.

The children have grown up a little, most notably Neville and Lydia, who at the beginning of the series are 6 or so, and now as old as 9 or 10 have taken on much more of a role and more distinct personalities. Louise, Polly, and Clary have also grown up a little, and these three are especially focused on, with large chunks of the book devoted to their experiences. Louise is at her acting school, and really quite grown up, but also extremely detached from the war despite making the acquaintance of an interesting naval officer. Clary's father Rupert who has joined the navy is now missing in action, and Clary keeps a diary, which comprises most of her sections of the book. Polly, too, is older; she's outgrown much of her extreme fear of the war but now has other things even closer to home to worry about. The book is so titled especially for these three teenagers, who feel that they are just marking time before their lives really begin.

The rest of the sprawling Cazalet family is not left out either; nearly all are touched on, though I noticed Teddy and Simon don't turn up much. I especially like the somewhat-unfortunate Miss Milliment. Possibly my favourite sections of the book belonged to Louise, though these also, by virtue of her circumstances, were much less connected to the family at large. I don't especially like Louise herself, but I find her and her experiences very interesting.

Elizabeth Jane Howard continues in this second book to have that great skill in her writing of summing things up, of going through the characters and giving a small portrait of each of them. She knows her characters well, and that definitely improves the book.

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