Monday, September 5, 2016

Book Review: The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

I absolutely adored Ms. Simonson's previous novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. This time she went historical. The title isn't entirely accurate though as the war starts about halfway into the novel. Which war? Well, the Great War, which is why it doesn't need to be named.

Beatrice is a young Latin teacher, who has come to East Sussex for her first job, as her father has recently died. Beatrice is determined to be a spinster (at the hilariously ripe old age of about 22). Agatha has arranged it (she's the first female Latin teacher in the town) as everyone knows Britain is about to go to war and have a shortage of men. Agatha's two nephews, cousins Hugh and Daniel, are visiting for the summer, and show Beatrice around town and introduce her to people and tell her how things really work and what's really going on behind the facades and fake-nice at afternoon teas. Soon she understands she goings-on despite being an outsider, and we get a very funny view of this small English country town with its cast of characters and their relationships.

I will say there were perhaps a few too many characters—I occasionally had trouble keeping track, but overall I found them all to be charming and often unintentionally funny. I did especially love Beatrice and Hugh. I will say the ending was much more sad than I had expected going into the book, but any war book much necessarily be so. I just had thought the book would end before the war began. The book is deceptively complex, a beautiful slice of life of this little community, with compelling characters who I thoroughly enjoyed. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like quaint British stiff-upper-lip society and don't mind a little bit of sad in your novel, this one is exquisitely written.

I checked this book out of the library.

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