Review: The Long View
Book: The Long View
Author: Elizabeth Jane Howard
First published: 1956
Current publisher: Picador Classic
Page count: 459
Print size: A good size, nice and clear. The paper smells lush and the cover is silky smooth. It is however quite a thick book, so a little cumbersome to hold.
Procurement: I bought this copy from Waterstones online.
I've been ill with a cold all week which has been a nuisance... but this sorry state of affairs also gave me the chance to finish reading a wonderful novel: The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I read EJH's Cazalet chronicles a couple of years ago, one after the other, which I loved. So I was keen to read another of her books. I think I became aware of this book on Twitter... as I do many books! (It's still the best social media for us bookish types.) The cover is beautifully designed - according to the back cover credits, by Katie Tooke, from the Picador art dept.
The words inside are also beautiful. It really is an absorbing read, just like the Cazalets. It's a novel written in five parts, in reverse chronological order, starting in 1950 and going back to 1926. I don't usually like gimmicks in fiction, but this isn't a gimmick at all. It's the perfect way to tell this story which examines a long, mostly painful, marriage. The reveal in the final part (1926) is something of a shocker. But this isn't the kind of novel "with a twist you won't see coming". It's not that obvious or cliched. My favourite part is the middle one, part three, 1937. EJH generates a tremendous amount of pace throughout, but it's especially present in part three. When I say pace, I don't mean it's frenetic like a thriller. It's quiet and persistent and gripping. And, often, it's fun.
EJH's characters are well-drawn - vivid, visual, vibrant. There is quite a large cast in this story. I was especially drawn to Thompson, who appears in my favourite part three. I could even smell that man... a real testament to EJH's writing talents. All her characters leap off the page in three dimensions. She is very good at characterising philandering men. There are several of those in this novel (and in the Cazalets there is of course the charming-but-ultimately-despicable Edward.) For me, her characters are EJH's great strength, and they don't disappoint in The Long View. I like that even her most terrible creations are treated as human beings. There are no moustache-twirling villains. She's far too good a writer to stoop to cliches.
Her descriptive writing is among the best you'll ever see. Look out too for her wild punctuation... it often breaks "rules" and it's very busy... but it works.
EJH's world - upper-middle-class - is not my world. But her work, to my mind, transcends her social setting. She gets to the heart of what it means to be human, to be alive, to have relationships with other humans. There is a surprisingly modern feel to her writing. Perhaps it's timeless. Certainly her themes are, and her characters' behaviours are as old as the hills. There is something rather comforting in that.
Shelf: Keep. Intend to read again, possibly backwards next time (which is really forwards).
Would recommend to: Anybody who enjoys classy 20th century fiction with modern themes and lots to say about life, people, and relationships.