The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Random House (March 22, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 5/10
Reading Sara Review: I wanted to love this book, I truly did. I loved Simonson’s book Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I remember her storytelling as being fluid and unexpected. And this was billed as a book for those of us still mourning the loss of Downton Abbey, a category in which I certainly fall into. I liked this book, but if I weren’t writing the review right now, I would probably forget about it quickly.
The Summer Before the War is set in 1914 in East Sussex, so, right before the first World War when times begin to change the world, but especially in England. The story follows Beatrice Nash, who arrives in town for a job teaching Latin at the local school. Beatrice is a world traveler, has unconventional ways of thought, and is more attractive than the local school expected. Beatrice is quickly thrown into the politics of the community, filled with quirky characters and afternoon tea.
Hugh and Daniel are cousins who grew up visiting the town of Rye and their aunt, Agatha. Agatha was a woman of her time, though possibly more free-thinking than she lets on, she plays the town politics game well to get things done. Agatha welcomes Beatrice with open arms and serves as somewhat of a mentor to her throughout the novel. Agatha certainly had a more interesting backstory than Beatrice, and this story would have benefitted from exploring that more.
Hugh and Daniel are opposites – Daniel is the poet and drinker while Hugh plays the role of doctor and serious companion. I wish that Daniel was better developed; he was certainly the most interesting character in the book. He was loyal, compassionate, but also had real struggles and that would have been interesting to explore. Hugh, on the other hand, was extremely one-dimensional. I felt no emotion toward him and did not care how his story was tidied up.
So, again, this book was just ok to me – nothing dramatic happens, which isn’t necessarily the problem, but it felt predictable and uninspired. I finished it, though it took me longer than usual because I kept waiting for something unusual to occur. Nothing did. I wanted to feel emotion at the end, but I was really just watching my kindle % and excited for picking my next book. When there are so many excellent historical fiction books floating around from the past couple of years, this is one that you can skip.