Confusion, Elizabeth Jane Howard


January 2023

The only thing that stopped me from dragging out Confusion for the whole year, so tenderly do I love it and such a balm it proved to my norovirus-burned soul one freezing week in January, was the knowledge that as soon as I finished I could move on to the next book in the Cazalet Chronicles series, which my Mum had found at home and lent to me after I read the first, The Light Years, over Christmas 2021.

Alas! Book four, Casting Off is missing! Each one seems more beautiful than the last, as we get deeper into the characters and what the war has done to their lives. In Confusion we reach the end of the war, but that alone does not bring any clarity for the younger Cazalets - Polly, Clary and Louise as well as Zoe - as to how they should be living their lives. There is plenty of love and laughter and relief but so much pain holding it all together.

Confusion really highlights how crap it was for women in the 1940s, even those in possession of a decent job or enviable husband. Louise is a pawn for her rich in laws. Diana falls in love with Edward only to bring his children up in a remote cottage without electricity while he gads about. Selfless Nora marries a veteran with no arms who she will have to nurse for his whole life. And he doesn’t even love her! He is gay and marries her to spare his mother the trouble of nursing him, which sounds entirely callous but each character’s perspective is drawn so elegantly and empathetically it’s hard to hate anyone (apart from Edward). Women all over are falling in love with American soldiers who desert them, or discover their British husbands are never coming home. It is truly a TERRIBLE time, and how Elizabeth Jane Howard squeezes such a profoundly moving and loving book from that is a goddam miracle.

I found myself trying to describe the series to a male friend who I imagine has modern and masculine tastes in fiction and wouldn’t enjoy it all, but really tried to sell it. I remember putting it off myself because I thought it would be some twee Malory Towers type thing, which it definitely isn’t.

I am also re-reading some teenage diaries to see whether I should burn them or not, and found that reading Clary’s letters and diary entries throughout Confusion has made me far less scathing of my own younger voice.