The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
To be published: March 22, 2016
The story is set in the town of Rye, England and is set during the summer of 1914, right before the start of WWI. Beatrice Nash, a writer, is on a train heading for Rye and a job teaching Latin at a local grammar school. This is a time when being a female teacher was still a relatively new thing and patron Agatha Kent fights to get her the position. Mrs. Kent takes her under her wing, setting her up at the local boarding house and introducing her to her nephews Hugh Grange, a promising young surgeon, and his cousin Daniel Bookham, a handsome young poet. Beatrice is plagued by financial issues and must rely on a local slimy law clerk to free up her inheritance and try to get her father’s academic work published, a job she can do herself but must rely on the town’s local author to do for her. As the war breaks out, both Hugh and Daniel enlist, much to the dismay of the aunt, who has always treated the boys as her own. When Germany invades Belgian, refugees are soon added to the town and Beatrice’s interactions with them will forever change her life. 3-1/2 stars.
I was very excited to read this book because I absolutely adored Simonson’s first book Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It reminded me a lot of Downton Abbey, which I started watching a little before starting this book. Especially Hugh’s character who reminded of Matthew Crawley, not so much because of his profession, but personality-wise. Overall, I enjoyed the book but I thought the story went on for way too long and the story was very slow-moving. I loved all the social interactions between the different classes of people and the varied views on what was deemed proper for the time period, again very Downton Abbey in that respect and especially the relationship between Hugh and Beatrice. Daniel’s story was very sad but true to what would happen to a man of his particular situation in the turn of the 20th century. Agatha Kent was a lot of fun to read about too, and I loved her character, even with the flaws.
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Readers Copy from Random House on Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.