Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for granting me access to my first eARC!
Title: The Summer Before the War
Author: Helen Simonson
Publisher: Random House
Page Count: 496
Genre: Historical Fiction
Why: Requested on Net Galley
Quote: Will be released when the book is published! (Expected date: March 22nd 2016)
New words: Get ready for the flood: waspish, convalescent, alfresco, sybarite, dilettantes, limn, profligate, perambulate, inveterate, paragon, philistine, moniker, gambit, munition, daub, unprepossessing, gauche, festoons, alderman, pollarded, fecundity, tipple, landar, aspidistra, dray, dais, pillory, billeting, din, beribboned, succor, claret, avuncular, neurasthenia, equanimity, cadre
Friend(s) who would enjoy this book: Rohini, Jessica
Song(s) in the soundtrack of this book:
1. I See You, You See Me, The Magic Numbers
2. Upward Over the Mountain, Iron and Wine (for Agatha and Daniel)
This book is- as implied by the title- the definition of a summer read. It will be lovely to buy the finished copy of this book and read alfresco, enveloped by the summer heat and encompassed by Simonson’s florid imagery.
It is the summer of 1914, and all is well in the town of Rye. Aunt Agatha, joined by her two nephews Daniel and Hugh, welcome a new schoolteacher, Beatrice Nash, into the town. Beatrice is our main character, an intelligent girl ahead of her time who was abandoned by her dear father’s death. However, a looming cloud falls over the town following Beatrice’s arrival: World War I. As the inhabitants of the town struggle to adapt to the changing war dynamics, the romantic summer fades away, and residents are forced to deal with harsh new realities.
If you have an affinity for Jane Austen, you will love Helen Simonson. Her beautiful language enhances every page and embellishes the story with grace and sophistication. The phrases and descriptive imagery allow the reader to truly experience the summer of 1914 with Hugh, Daniel, and Beatrice. Especially during the town festivities and garden scene, it is easy to admire the beautiful flowers next to Beatrice’s side and imagine the homely feel of the town dances. And as you can see by my extensive “new word” list, my vocabulary has definitely been expanded. I really wish I could provide a quote here to show off the incredibly descriptive language, however I will wait until the finished copy to share.
The characters in The Summer Before the War are incredible. The amount of development they go through as the summer passes by is written amazingly. Simonson’s characters have a certain spark; they are all easy to love (especially Snout) due to their strong personalities, however they each have their faults, which makes them incredibly relatable to the reader. Simonson creates characters that you immediately become attached to; Hugh’s seriousness, Daniel’s playfulness, Tillingham’s good-natured hubris all become endearing to the reader immediately.
Simonson really delves into the problems of British society in the 20th century, especially with regards to sexism and class division. The honest depiction of women’s struggles was frustrating and saddening at times, but the perseverance of the female characters always made me smile. The investigation into birthright and breaking class boundaries was also incredibly interesting to read about. I really appreciated the little quips made throughout the story, especially those asserting women’s rights in a time when they were practically nonexistent. The subtle bits of humor found throughout the story will literally make you laugh out loud in surprise at times. Humor is accompanied by witty banter throughout the book, which is incredibly entertaining to read.
The only problem I had with this book was the slow build up to the main event of the book, the war. About 75% of the book is dedicated to a complete description of the summer, which can definitely be a little bit slow at times. The war, which happens in the last 25%, is absolutely captivating to read about, and I found myself wishing that Simonson had spent a little more time on it. And the ending of the book was heartbreaking but incredible, I’d definitely suggest reading it with tissues.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and/or Jane Austen. It is a phenomenal read that I will definitely be reading under the sunny blue sky, instead of the cold gray one outside right now. And I will definitely be picking up Aeneid by Virgil within the next couple of weeks.