Review: The Summer Before the War

April 6, 2016 Fiction, Historical Fiction 6 ★★★

Review: The Summer Before the WarTitle: The Summer Before the War
Author: Helen Simonson
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: This was a cute story, but too predictable to be complex and not quite happy enough to justify the predictability.

In East Sussex, in the summer before the start of WWI, the big news is the progressive choice of a female Latin teacher, Beatrice Nash. The wealthy Agatha Grange, who pushed for Beatrice’s appointment, is determined that Beatrice prove herself a good choice, despite being more attractive and independent than might be considered proper in a Latin teacher. Meanwhile, Agatha’s two nephews have their own problems as they slowly get pulled into preparations for war.

I would describe the first three quarters of this book as a novel of manners and it reminded me pleasantly of Jane Austen. The writing, small town setting, and topic gave the book a simple, cozy feel that made me feel a pleasant anticipation of a happy ending. The book was much less witty than Austen, but still made me notice the more absurd customs of the time.

The last quarter of the book really didn’t work for me. Suddenly instead of a novel of manners, this became a war novel, with personal grudges worked out on the battlefield with deadly consequences. The dramatic conclusion felt out of place and artificially arranged for maximum  emotional impact. The ending was decently satisfying, but not happy enough to justify the lack of complexity. Despite the enjoyable look at life for female school teachers in this time period, this book didn’t quite succeeded for me as something simple and happy or as anything more complex.

6 Responses to “Review: The Summer Before the War”

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Gasp! A female Latin teacher! If I had been born in ye olden times, I like to think that I’d have been a revolutionary female Latin teacher. :p

    Helen Simonson is one of those authors like Kate Morton that I like to read on a plane but maybe don’t depend on for Depth and Themes. I’m looking forward to reading The Summer before the War some rainy day soon in between nonfiction reads about genocide.

    • DoingDewey

      Haha, I know, can you imagine!

      I think your description of what you expect with this author matches very much how I felt about her. I don’t know that I’ll go out of my way to pick up more of her books, but I’d read one if I stumbled across it.

  2. susan

    Oh too bad. I had high hopes for this one — as I had liked Simonson’s earlier debut novel Mr. Pettigrew’s Last Stand which was quite a cute novel & love story. But perhaps that’s hard to follow up with. hmm.

    • DoingDewey

      I heard from some other bloggers that this hadn’t quite lived up to the her first book, but I didn’t read it, so I’m not sure how it compares.

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