“The day began at five to seven when the alarm clock (given to Phyllis by her mother when she started service) went off on and on and on until she quenched it.”
This is book one of a five book series that was first published beginning in the late 1980s and then through about 2011 before Elizabeth Jane Howard died a few years ago. She was probably more famous during her lifetime than she is now, and more people should get to know her, because she’s written a series here (not to mention her older books which don’t really know) that feels so much like a lot of well-known other novels, but with more of the shading done and more of the gaps filled in.
The novels take place within a well-off family in the between-the-war-years, not unlike, but also not modeled on the Mitfords, with two middle-aged parents, a handful of children of various ages, and various ancillary members of the family in tow. In addition, we get some, but not a lot of servants and friends, and other connected people’s stories. The novel is not unlike books like Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate/In the Pursuit of Love or Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life or so, but with the big difference that more of the inner life and more of the excruciating personal thoughts, fears, and anxieties are on display here. There’s still a lot of humor and warmth and irony here, but not as much comedy as Mitford’s, and there’s more warmth and humanness than something like the Patrick Melrose novels. Instead, there’s some real domestic strife and anxiety along with some unearned sense of station. Primarily this deals with the years right before the onset of WWII with Chamberlain delivering appeasement decisions right near the end here.