The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War

A Novel

Book - 2016
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New York Times - bestselling author Helen Simonson returns with a splendid historical novel full of the same wit, romance and insight into the manners and morals of small-town British life as her beloved Major Pettigrew's Last Stand .

It's the summer of 1914 and life in the sleepy village of Rye, England is about to take an interesting turn. Agatha Kent, a canny force for progress, is expecting an unusual candidate to be the school's Latin teacher: Beatrice Nash, a young woman of good breeding in search of a position after the death of her father. (Never has there been a woman Latin teacher.) Agatha's nephews, meanwhile, have come to spend the summer months, as always, both with dreams of their own: Daniel, the poet, to publish a literary journal in Paris, and Hugh, to graduate from medical studies and marry his surgeon's daughter thus inheriting a lucrative practice. But then Hugh is sent to pick up Beatrice from the train station and life, of course, changes. As with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand , the quintessential English village becomes the stage on which entrenched tradition, class, ignorance, family ties and love play out. Here, these characters and others we come to love and root for become characters we hope and pray for when the shadow of the Great War looms ever closer to home.

Publisher: [Toronto] : Bond Street Books/Doubleday Canada, c2016
ISBN: 9780385677066
Branch Call Number: SIM
Characteristics: 479 p. ;,25 cm


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Jul 17, 2018

I loved this novel! It took me awhile to get involved in it, as it started somewhat slowly. It was a different book than "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," which was a great read and absorbing right from the beginning.

Apparently there are some anachronisms, such as Agatha and other characters wanting to be addressed by their first names, but that is more the fault of the editor than Helen Simonson (editor? what's that?). A big point is made at the oppression women faced at the time, all too real, given that they did not yet even have the right to vote. I was a bit disappointed that Beatrice Nash, obviously a smart, spirited young woman, didn't speak up at various points in the novel, but there you go.

The depictions of WWI and its brutal effects on the English are heartrending. Simonson portrays well the fatuousness of those in the population who thought enlisting was some sort of lark or adventure. "Testament of Youth" was one of the books used as a source for her novel.

Anyway, if you are interested in this period and in English village life, you won't be disappointed. Well-written with vivid descriptions, and a light and at times comic touch.

May 25, 2018

Wonderful story !

Aug 24, 2017

Great book. The reader "lives" in a small town in England and meets its inhabitants. The book concentrates on the summer before WWI and how the upcoming war effects its inhabitants. I felt like I really got to know the characters as well as the time period. I would recommend this book. (A bit long, though, at 615 pgs. - e-book edition. Make sure you have plenty of time to read it. )

Aug 15, 2017

Loved this book in all its delicious, 'plodding' detail. Although I wasn't around in 1914, have certainly read enough books set in that time frame to know that many people really were like this.
For those who don't read much, Downton Abbey certainly portrayed some of the social customs of that time.

CRRL_MegRaymond Jul 25, 2017

1914. The last lovely summer in East Sussex. Beatrice Nash arrives to teach Latin - who knew she would be so young and so beautiful?

Mar 23, 2017

With the anniversary of America's entry into WWI approaching, this book is a timely and spellbinding read. My grandfather talked of WWI and his comments made the book seem more personal. I put off reading this book for several months and that was a mistake. It's enjoyable and informative. Give it a try if historical fiction is something you read.

Mar 12, 2017

Couldn't put it down. Excellent historical fiction, historically accurate details. I love Simonson's aesthetic: dialogue, setting, dress, class and social structure. Many layered story, wonderfully branched out from the village of Rye, Sussex just before WWI and its beginning. Time of transition.

Any knowledge of this period of British history will simply make this not a good story, but a superb one. A time of transition - the character Daniel wants to be a poet, living in London, living a free life. "Bohemian" characters, a divorced man and wife, both writers, have moved to the country for a life free of scandal but the villagers are very conservative - these artists are typical of those like writers Vanessa Wolfe and Vita Sackville-Hays, artists Vanessa Bell and Augustus John who lived together in artist colonies, with their flowing clothing.
Women speaking up. The Status Quo turning their backs, before the Great War turned their world upside down.

I loved the characters. Shed a few tears, which surprised me. The novel saturated my senses, transported me.

Truly a treat for lovers of well-researched and character filled historical fiction. I had hesitated to read it because the reviews were so mixed. SO happy that I did - a real pleasure!

5.00 stars!

Feb 19, 2017

Did people really talk like that? Like all those people in the book? Did they really have those impossibly educated and highly elaborated conversations about their poems, bycicles, dinners and everyday life? The book is so annoyingly slow and pseudo intellectual. Painful. Loved Major Pittegrew, though.

Feb 13, 2017

This book is set in the same time and place as Downton Abbey which is what drew me to it, that time frame is filled with such an almost caste system it is very interesting to me. It was also a time of a newly forming suffragette movement when even the upper class women were against it. The income disparities are as far apart as they are becoming here in America. The lives of those in the middle of it all and those trying to better themselves the consequences of those trying to help those who are trying to better themselves is hard to believe.
There is a closeted gay who suffers many indignities from his lover's family which has grave consequences.
It has great, filled out characters and the story moves along at just the right pace. Looking for others from this author.

Jan 22, 2017

This is a fabulous book and it's made my short list of go-to books to give as gifts. I relished every moment I spent in the book! It is intelligent, charming, wise, witty, and has an engaging story line. Truly, it made me recollect my habit of considering excellent books as excellent friends. I haven't read a better book in years and I read a lot.

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