Book Review

The Summer Before the War


I sobbed through the last 15 minutes of The Summer Before the War – this, after disciplining myself to soldier on through a book that I found slow for the first half. I deliberately open here with this statement to warn you. I did love this book – emotionally, intellectually, wholeheartedly – once I got to know the characters, and the tension built. But it’s a quiet book, capturing the constraints of the society of the time.

Let me say something else up front. I don’t love war fiction. Strike that. I hate war fiction. But this was more about small town life and love, all exquisitely written. Moreover, being written by a woman in the voice of early-twentieth-century England, even the final descriptions of the war’s front lines were elegant.

But powerful! Very powerful!

Small town life rife with pettiness, gossip, and spite, hasn’t changed much from the early 1900’s to now. What has changed is a woman’s power to choose. The women in The Summer Before the War recognize what they have and where they want to go, and it’s great fun to watch them at work. I nodded through some parts, smiled through others, outright laughed at yet more.

If you’re willing to simply sit back and enjoy the process until the scene is fully laid, your patience will pay off. You’ll love Beatrice and Agatha, Hugh and Daniel. Each has a depth hidden behind surface politeness. I am still marveling at that.

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