Thursday, February 18, 2016

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The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the War
is a novel of which the action is mostly set before the beginning of WWI. The story is set around Beatrice Nash, a young woman who arrives in a small country town where she is supposed to be a Latin teacher. She has been recommended by two distinguished members of the local community, Lady Emily and Agatha Kent. 

Soon after arriving in Rye, Beatrice finds out that her position might have been compromised and thus, she learns that she has a competitor and that the local council would make a decision in regards to which of the two is the best choice for the local school.

The book touches on topics such as feminism at the beginning of the 20th century and just how difficult it used to be for a woman to get a job, get around, make ends meet, and remain a self-proclaimed spinster without being scolded for it. Beatrice Nash has been living in the shadow of her father for the entirety of her life. When he dies, she is left with little to nothing on account of a trust fund that doesn't allow her to withdraw any money unless a group of solicitors agree with her expenses. Considering that her father used to be a scholar, Beatrice hardly understands how he could have allowed for such a crazy plan to be created.

At the beginning of the novel, we meet Hugh and Daniel, Agatha Kent's two nephews. While Daniel is a bohemian who dreams of being a poet, Hugh is significantly more practical than his cousin, which is why he's opted for a career in medicine. He dreams of being a doctor and is intoxicated with his medical advisor's daughter. In fact, a great part of the action revolved around Hugh is focused on his love for this certain Lucy, who waits for him in London. He hasn't yet had the chance to be frank and make her a confession about his feelings, but he plans to do so.

And then, Beatrice comes to town.


Most of the characters are relatable, aside from a small group composed of the mayor, the mayor's wife as well as the mayor's nephew. Even if these characters are, in actuality, hateable, they sometimes contribute to some funny events where we're left feeling avenged by their stupidity. Beatrice is a brilliant mind, although most of the men seem to think that she's perhaps too well-endowed with intelligence, particularly for a woman. Agatha Kent is one of my favorite characters of all time, as she's a strong woman but has some sensitive parts in her personality, which make her liable to being hurt easily.

While Daniel is relatively uninteresting at the beginning of the book, he eventually becomes a great part of the action as does a number of Belgian refugees that show up in the small town at some point.


I've decided to share with you a quote that, in my opinion, is an excellent sample of Helen Simonson's writing style in the Summer Before the War.

Such is the slow accumulation of sorrows in a long war that the requests for memorial services begin to outweigh the marriages and the parishioners begin to keep their black coats brushed and hung at the front of their wardrobes.
In short, this book made me root for the characters and actually made me cry. It took me over a month to read, but I will never forget it.

*Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read The Summer Before the War. Review published on Goodreads and Amazon.

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