The Summer Before The War – Helen Simonson

The Summer Before The War – Helen Simonson

This book was a challenge, a challenge i set myself to be honest because awhile ago a friend posted a picture of a parcel on her doorstep saying her books had arrived and yet when i asked her what did she buy i was told you wouldn’t like it. No title, author or genre just boom you wouldn’t like it, We used to speak many a time about books and offer suggestions but this time i could draw out no further information.

Had my reading preferences become so constrained that she felt it a waste to elaborate on her purchases. Had a comment i may of made previously about a book or genre perhaps offended her? Either way i felt the situation called for me to take a stab at broadening my literary horizons. So i thought, what is the genre that would cause me to throw the book into a fire under normal circumstances. The first genre to mind was Romance, i would rather have a kidney extracted by hand and with no anesthetic than read that rubbish. The second was anything remotely like Downton Abbey – The whole post Edwardian period piece. So perhaps i could find a book that would combine these two.

The End result was this book, in fact it didn’t take long to find since there is such a demand for this style of Downton Abbey style rubbish. Needless to say my negativity of the genre is already showing and i’ll try to reign it in.

The books Blurb is as follows

East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent sabre rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.

When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking — and attractive — than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.

But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war”

I first see the year 1914, and get excited knowing this is set right at the outbreak of WWI but then I read the whole blurb, in fact i read it twice to try and figure out what the plot was, and even after finishing the book i am still left struggling to understand the plot, was there even a plot? If it wasn’t for the brief mention of war i might of passed over this book for another.

For me i just can’t fathom why people love the whole Downton Abbey theme. People seem to imagine this a rich and wonderful time to pursue ones interests, with slaves, oh i mean servants to cater to your whims and numerous balls and galas held to entertain your social needs. Where young beautiful ladies are swooned by handsome men with fancy titles.  Is everyone who reads this stuff Daft? That’s how the rich and powerful 1% of society lives, a quick look over to the rest of us shows we drag out our meager existence chasing trains to pick up dropped pieces of coal to warm us in winter. This is an area where women have very little choice. They must do as their fathers bid, marry who their fathers bid. Can’t aspire to greatness or to have any job they desire, doors are closed to them for most vocations. Religion holds a powerful influence over people, to highlight this sickening hold, there is a woman in this story who gets raped and falls pregnant, SPOILER ALERT, instead of feeling for this poor woman and trying to help her because of what she went through, they feel they need to remove her from their town and not be seen with her so as to not ruin ones social standing and people call this the time of romance? Everything about this time is focused on social standing as opposed to happiness or chasing ones dreams but enough of a rant about the theme back to this book.

This book was such a struggle to go through, it felt like each chapter dragged on longer than the wait between book releases from George R.R. Martin. Don’t get me wrong the Author writes well and somehow manged to do it for 500 pages but for 400 pages nothing happens, we have balls and galas, numerous teas and dinners but nothing of purpose or meaning. We have stuck up Matrons and ladies of the house and the usual town gossipers. Even the outbreak of WWI barely makes a dent into the social goings of this town, they swarm over refuges hoping to get English speaking ones and to help raise their social standings by this act. It is these very people who should be shot for war crimes, only helping their fellow man for their own personal gain.

The brief highlight of this book was when we finally venture out of some quaint English town to the battlefields of Europe, oh how my hopes were dashed by its mere briefest of appearances. Yet its mere presence renewed in me a desire to finish this book and be done with it. With numerous mentions of the war in those last 100 pages and chapters taking place there, i was able to zip through to the ending which was not surprising and rather long foreseen considering how predicable these 2 dimensional and plain characters are.

If you love stories with no plot that feature words like Matriarch, Lord, Servant, and have themes like Female oppression, Social Elitism, and revolve around the PoV of a woman trying to break the social confinements placed on a young single woman than yes this book is for you.

If you prefer entertainment, excitement, suspense or even just a basic plot then move along friend this is not the book your looking for