- May 4, 2015
I’ve just read The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, which I recommend. The action takes place mostly in a fictional Sussex village in the summer of 1914. The author brilliantly depicted the place, the people of the village and the time. I also enjoyed her writing style. The central characters are very well-rounded: a diplomat’s wife Agatha Kent who uses her own diplomatic talents to beneficent effect in the village; her nephew recent college graduate and aspiring poet Daniel Bookham who grows from a tiresomely wise-cracking, self-centered youth with a penchant for putting the less well-connected people in their places to an altruistic and democratic adult, albeit one who can still be petty in nursing his hurt feelings and unable to control his emotions under admittedly difficult circumstances; and her husband’s nephew – a serious and gentlemanly Hugh Grange who’s about to become a brain surgeon. (The young men refer to each other as cousins, which I found confusing, given that there’s no indication that Mr. and Mrs. Kent are also blood-related.) There’s also a plethora of well-developed supporting characters, ranging from the gentry to gypsies; I particularly enjoyed the cynical portrait of the American expat and celebrated writer Mr. Tillingham. This novel does have its faults – one other major character, the new Latin teacher Beatrice Nash, is considerably less well-realized than the others, and there are some plot weaknesses – but overall I found it to be a very good novel and definitely worth reading. Its main strength is its marvelous depiction of human nature and behavior in general.