The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
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 saber 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 read this book lightning fast, which for me can be difficult at times due to scheduling and overall attention span. I love a good historical fiction book though and this one didn’t let me down.
It takes place in England, Rye in East Sussex to be exact and the time period is 1914. A young woman named Beatrice Nash is left on her own after her father dies and must seek a position teaching Latin in the Seaside town. Traveling to a new home, knowing not a soul, she is lucky enough to be welcomed by ‘Aunt Agatha’, ‘Hugh Grange’, and his cousin ‘Daniel. Turns out though, they are all lucky to have each other.
While they pass the summer by, enjoying beautiful weather, adventures, and soirees, a war is brewing. It all comes to a halt when the men are sent off to war, refugees come to stay in their quaint village and the men and women get to see first hand the brutality of war.
This book was able to be light enough when it needed to be, in order to keep it from being a total downer even when there were some serious, sad bits to it. The characters were rich and likable (except the one’s that weren’t, ahem, Mrs. Fothergill!) and you truly felt the emotion coming from the characters, the good and the bad.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and for being a big book, I was pleased to blow right through it. To me, that’s always the best review I can give. When you don’t plod through a book, it was a good one!
**Full disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.