Like trudging through mud, this one.
A beautiful book. I enjoyed the descriptions. The characters were so vividly realized. I was deeply moved by the ending. What a lovely tribute to the many warriors of WWI.
It was the cover of The Summer Before the War that caught my eye, and it was Simonson’s descriptive writing that kept me reading. Most, but not all, of the story takes place in the summer before the start of WWI. The plot proceeds at a leisurely pace just as one might expect the lives of the upper-crust society in a small town would during the summer. While the pace is slow and tranquil, the pithy repartee of the main characters is probably the most accurate depiction of conversation between men and women written by a modern day writer. Simonson’s scene set up reminded me of Hardy, while her dialogue reminded me of Wilde. The tale has an old-world feel to it. I appreciated Simonson’s exploration of several social issues: women’s rights (or lack thereof), homosexuality, divorce, pregnancy out of wedlock, and the strict social class structure of society in early 20th century England. The era seemed to be filled with judgment, and the smallest of slights or presumption would make someone a social outcast. The entanglement of town politics and social elite is as thick as overgrown vines on a castle turret. The restrictions on women working, deciding not to marry and even managing their own assets was frustrating to read, but alas, accurately portrayed. Rye, in The Summer Before the War, is filled with an interesting group of villagers, all of whom will be adored by fans of Downton Abby and similar period pieces. There are grand dames, German Barons, an American author (perhaps modeled after Henry James), as well as gypsies and Belgian refugees. The heroine of the tale, Miss Beatrice Nash, is one of the most interesting characters. The recent loss of her father forces her to either marry or find employment. Marriage would give her, or should I say her husband, access to her trust, but it would clip her wings. She is used to a high level of autonomy since she spent a great deal of her youth acting as her father’s travel companion and assistant. I was confounded as to why a father who obviously acknowledged his daughter’s intelligence and raised her unconventionally would then clip her wings by placing a stipulation on her inheritance. The turn –of-the-century angst is so much more enjoyable than that of modern times (I’m thinking of Being Earnest while writing this), but the eventual HEA is no less satisfactory than a modern-day romance. While the pace of the story doesn’t match the frenetic lifestyle of the 21st century, The Summer Before the War will appeal to readers who enjoy period pieces as well history buffs and lovers of the classics.
I would recommend her other book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, over this book. While it is wonderfully descriptive of life in small town England before WWI, the plot seemed very linear and somewhat thudded to an end. Also during a large segment of the book you are waiting to see how the main character will do at her teaching job and this plot line is never fully developed. It was OK but Major Pettigrew was much better.
An excellent book! I really enjoy how Ms. Simonson weaves her books. The characters are all to human and the story all to real and pulls the reader into the book.
I couldn't put this book down. I loved it from start to finish, and the book seems to beg for a trilogy. Lovely, lovely writing and characters one can almost reach out and touch. "Pride and Prejudice" meets "Downton Abbey."
Loved every moment of this beautiful story. 1914 in small community of Rye where you feel you are living through the events leading up to WWI in rural England. Characters are interesting with depth and some surprises! Great read.