That halcyon interlude between the wars is the familiar backdrop for this tee-off to ""The Cazalet Chronicles,"" a British family saga by the author of Getting It Right (1982; etc.). As it turns out, the Cazalets are an extremely personable brood--making the prospect of forthcoming volumes cheery. Unmarried Rachel and her three brothers--Edward, Hugh, and Rupert--compose the generation of Cazalets in their prime, all of them the children of a well-to-do timber merchant affectionately known as Brig and his wife, the Duchy (who makes her own curtains and stretches food even though the family hardly lacks money). Edward, a womanizer, is nonetheless happily married to Villy, mother of the actress-to-be Louise, ever-hungry Teddy, and baby Lydia; Villy, it seems clear, will eventually have to deal with Edward's waywardness and an unwanted pregnancy. Meanwhile, Hugh, still feeling the ill effects of the last war, presides much more devotedly over his own three children, and with his wife, Sybil, has turned marriage into a ""duel of consideration."" Rupert is struggling to understand his vain young wife, Zoe (who cares little for his children from a former marriage), and now considers abandoning his painting career to join the family firm. And then there's self-sacrificing sister Rachel, whom everyone adores and who is headed for a life of closet lesbianism. In the two summers tracked here, the Cazalets assemble at the family's Sussex manse, bringing with them chaos, childish antics, subterranean adult problems, and, above all, the fear that Chamberlain won't be able to appease Hitler--which, he does, of course, though briefly, leaving the cook with the final word: ""Hitler is one thing. But I can't run my kitchen without a maid. . ."" It's all slow as treacle pudding, intelligent and charming.