Author: Helen Simonson
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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.