The Light Years
Every summer, brothers Hugh, Edward and Rupert Cazalet take their wives and children back their childhood home in the heart of the Sussex countryside. There, they join their formidable parents and unmarried sister Rachel for two months of glorious, sunlit days full of childish games and picnics on the beach. But not even this idyllic setting can alleviate heartache, fear and loneliness. Hugh, haunted by memories of battle in France, is terrified at the prospect of another war. Handsome, charming Edward, who escaped the war unscathed, is more concerned with matters close at hand, but his wife Villy, desperately bored after her life as a dancer, is unaware of his continuous infidelities. Rupert, the talented painter, finds that he cannot paint and be married to his beautiful and demanding wife, Zoe. And Rachel is so loyal to her family that she has no time to devote to Sid - the woman she feels so passionately about...
As the shadows of the Second World War roll in, a new generation of Cazalets take up the family's story. Louise, who dreams only of playing Hamlet, is brought brutally to the realization that her parents have their own lives, too, with secrets, passions and yearnings. Clary, who religiously documents all aspects of her life in diaries and letters, learns that her father, who was in the Navy, is now missing somewhere on the shores of France. And sensitive, imaginative Polly feels stuck - stuck without a vacation, stuck without information about her mother's illness, without anything except for her nightmares about the war.
During the long, dark days of war, the divided and troubled Cazalets begin to find the battle for survival echoing the confusion in their own lives. Headstrong, independent Louise surprises everyone by abandoning her dreams of the stage and making a society marriage. Unhappiness and loneliness, which have also plagued her mother's marriage, quickly settle in - Michael seems more interested in his ship and his mother, to whom he is extraordinary close, than in his young bride. And both Michael and his mother are desperate for her to become pregnant, a wish not shared by Louise. Polly and Clary, now in their late teens, finally fulfil their ambition of living together in London. But the reality of the city is not quite as they hoped. Polly is having to come to terms with the death of her mother, as well as look after her grieving father. And Clary - clever, sharp Clary, acutely aware she is neither beautiful like Polly nor striking like Louise - is she the only Cazalet who seems to believe that her father might not be dead.
The older Cazalet cousins, now in their twenties, are trying to piece their lives together in the aftermath of the way whilst having to engage, painfully, with their parents as people for the first time. Louise's father Edward is desperate for her to like his mistress and her mother is beside herself with pain at his betrayal. And Clary needs to understand exactly why her beloved father chose to stay in France long after it was safe for him to return home. Meanwhile, the girls' own affairs are far from straightforward. Both Polly and Clary have fallen madly in love with much older men, both wildly unsuitable for different reasons. And Louise, stuck in a loveless marriage, is candidly considering her own options, as well as tending to her own, very private, grief.
It is the 1950s and as the Duchy, the Cazalets' beloved matriarch, dies, she takes with her the last remnants of a disappearing world - of houses with servants, of class and tradition - in which the Cazalets have thrived Louise, now divorced, becomes entangled in a painful affair; while Polly and Clary must balance marriage and motherhood with their own ideas and ambitions Hugh and Edward, now in their sixties, are feeling ill-equipped for this modern world; while Villy, long abandoned by her husband, must at last learn to live independently. But it is Rachel, who has always lived for others, who will face her greatest challenges yet...
As a new generation of Cazalets descends on Home Place, only one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same again.