Book Club Pick: The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Summer Before the War

Title: The Summer Before the War

Author: Helen Simonson

Published: March 2016

Rating: ★★★

Summary: Set in 1914, Beatrice Nash moves to a small English town to be the new Latin teacher. A female Latin teacher throws this town into a frenzy. Beatrice gets to know the quirky members of this community and fights to find her place among them. Everything changes though, when war breaks out.

My Thoughts: Little known fact about this book and me, more than a year ago I bought this book on audio and attempted to listen to it. It did not end well. In fact, it did not end at all. I declared life too short to listen to a book I wasn’t feeling. Then my mom picked this one for our book club, so I knew I would have to give it another go. This time around, I also mostly listened to this book, but committed myself to pay attention and finish it. I enjoyed the beautiful writing of Simonson. It is very poetic and mimics the time the story is set in very well. There is subtle humor that makes characters very likable. Simonson paints the era in extreme detail with a strong focus on the minutiae of the small English countryside and the wealthy who live there. Decorum and propriety rule the day; reputation is everything. Most of the book is devoted to this style of writing and story telling. It gets tedious at times, but I always had the thought that it was beautiful and fed my BBC Masterpiece hunger. When war hits in the end of the story, the plot completely changes. It’s almost jarring how much the book changes when characters see the war front. At first I thought nothing of it other than it felt like two different books, but upon reflection I am starting to think Simonson intentionally wrote the book in that way. World War I completely changed life as they knew it in this proper English town, and I think the stark contrast of the story illustrates that to the reader in a more tangible way. I liked this book well enough, but it felt like a bit of a chore to get through it.

Book Club Discussion: Right off the bat, we would all like to petition BBC Masterpiece to make this book into a mini-series. It is begging to be the next Downton Abbey. Throughout our discussion, we kept comparing it to the beloved series. The writing is lovely, and we all agreed upon that, however, some of us felt the focus on the the subtleties of the time to be tedious, while others loved that trait. There wasn’t a lot to be discussed regarding the plot, as it was pretty straight forward, so our conversation was pretty short, much if it spent reminiscing about Downton Abbey.

Next Month’s Pick: Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama

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