Tributes have has been pouring in since Elizabeth Jane Howard died last week. The obituary writers are all agreed on her importance in British 20th century fiction though her reputation did seem to suffer from being in the shadow of her third husband Kingsley Amis.
She has enjoyed a late career revival over the last couple of years and in response to this, the reading group did a double bill in December 2012.
The example of her fiction we chose was Falling, actually based on a true life experience of a conman who contacted her after she appeared on Desert Island Discs. A cautionary tale of a lonely woman completely taken in by a compulsive liar. It’s to her credit that she could craft such a riveting work of art from a very painful experience.
Slipstream, her autobiography was the second of the books we read. She shows a degree of honesty and self-awareness unusual in a genre more often given over to self-aggrandisement. In her discussion of the break up of her marriage to Amis she made me see how much courage it takes to leave a failing marriage.
Both works amply rewarded the time and effort I took to read them.
So Farewell, Elizabeth Jane Howard – you have left an enduring legacy in the shape of your novels.
And for the last word, here is the writer herself in typically upbeat form
“One of the good things about living longer is that we have more time to learn how to be old. It’s clear to me now that inside the conspiracy of silence about age – because of the negative aspects of the condition – there is the possibility of art: that is to say that it can be made into something worth trying to do well, a challenge, an adventure. I don’t want to live with any sort of retirement, with nostalgia and regret wrapped round me like a wet blanket. I want to live enquiringly, with curiosity and interest for the rest of my life.*”