Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

★★★ 1/2
"Her favorite summer memories were not of events themselves, of picnics, sea bathing, tennis afternoons and cricket matches, but of watching Hugh and Daniel enjoying them and locking into memory the delight in their faces and their open hearts."

This historical novel is set in Rye, a small town in East Sussex of England, in the year 1914.  It is, essentially, the "summer before the war" and everything is going as usual: Hugh Grange has returned for the summer from his medical studies to live with his Aunt Agatha and Uncle John.  His cousin Daniel is trying to publish his poetry.  The town is in the process of hiring a new Latin master.  And in the mist of everything, the country may be going to war.

And then Beatrice Nash arrives with her bicycle and crate of books and her free-thinking spirit soon takes the town by surprise.

I loved the author's first book, 'Major Pettigrew's Last Stand' and was looking forward to this one as well.  Unfortunately, this one just didn't work they way I expected it to.  The beginning had the same wonderful small-town charm of 'Major Pettigrew' and I loved the character of Beatrice, but then the novel started to go off in all different directions.  There were too many new characters introduced and I felt that the focus drew further and further away from Beatrice and Hugh.  The book dragged on and on and then the ending felt far too rushed and I found myself not caring as much about the characters as I should have.  

That being said, I still enjoyed a lot of aspects of the book.  I really liked the description of Rye and the feeling of pre-war England.  The Belgian refugees also added a very unique aspect to the books and created a lot of comparisons to later periods of history.

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