I love reading multi-volume family sagas and I think one of the best is Elizabeth Jane Howard's The Cazelet Chronicles. I've just been reading the fifth and final volume All Change which was published last year.
I first met the Cazelets when I watched the last couple of episodes of a TV adaptation in about 2001. At that stage there were four novels and I bought the first one The Light Years (published in 1990) and was hooked.
Of course this was in the days before we could get anything we wanted to read with the click of a button onto the Kindle and so several months elapsed before I tracked down the other three volumes. Eventually I got hold of them all and couldn't put any of them down.
The books follow the lives of a large, privileged, middle class family in the years between 1937 and 1947. Most of the action takes place in London and Surrey but from time to time a character wanders off further afield. The books explore the relationships between family members and with the wide variety of characters they meet as they mature and develop. The writing style is vivid and engaging and once you've got into Book 1, the characters feel like real people that you actually know.
Some while later I read Elizabeth Jane Howard's autobiography and was surprised to find how much of the Cazelets' life style and many of the actual events had been drawn from her own experiences.
I read the Chronicles again with this newly found perspective; enjoyed them but not as much as the first time and passed the set onto a charity shop.
You can imagine that when I read Elizabeth Jane Howard had written a fifth volume, taking the Cazelet story on from 1947 through to 1958, I was keen to read it. Sadly, Elizabeth Jane Howard died on January 2nd 2014. She was ninety years old. And unfortunately All Change is a big disappointment. Too much of the first half of the novel is spent re-hashing the earlier volumes and explaining who is who and why they're in the story. Most of the characters develop as people in whom I found I had little interest and understandably, the writing style has lost its sparkle. However, the original books made a great TV series so I've ordered the DVD Boxed Set in case the summer continues as wet and miserable as it's been so far to-day.