One of the things on my Summer Intentions list was to read summery fiction. I managed to read around a dozen books over the last couple of months. I enjoyed most of them, in the main, although there was one where I didn’t get past page 75.
Now that we are in the last week of August, I think it’s time for a little review.
A Month in the Country, J.L Carr was one of my early summer reads. I loved this book. A really short read - a novella - set in the long hot summer of 1920 and is an autobiographical story about the authors’s time spent renovating a mural in a country church. It’s written as a reflection on the events of that time, soon after WW1. The language is almost poetic - it’s a beautiful and evocative book, and had me yearning for that time and place. And, any book that involves cake - well…
“ I remember the cake too, seedcake, first rate. Now that’s something you’d be lucky to find in London, then or now”
What can I say? Summer reading wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Miss Read and her quintessential tales of English village life.
Rose Cottage, by Mary Stewart was a pleasant enough read. It was a light romantic novel, set in the summertime - a comfortable story with a bit of a mystery going on. I read it while sitting under the trees in the garden on a beautiful sunny day - perfect summer reading.
I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement over a stormy weekend. It’s not what you would call a light summer book, but the first part is set on a hot summer day in 1935. It was a superb novel - rich and atmospheric. A story in three parts. about the consequences of a lie, set against the backdrop of the second world war. I was gripped by it and needed to keep reading. I found the middle part about the journey to Dunkirk, and the descriptions of life as a nurse in London at that time completely fascinating. The feelings from this book stayed with me for a long while.
I’d forgotten I’d read this until I was looking back in my photos for this post. I picked it up in a charity shop at the beginning of the year, but seeing it was set in the Summer of 2003, I put it on my seasonal pile. I enjoyed it - I like Ali Smith’s writing - quick and smart and funny. This one was too, although quite cliched in places. A familiar story of a strangers turning up and disrupting the lives of an already dysfunctional family, and the consequences of that. Good fun.
This was a holiday purchase from an amazing bookshop in St. Andrews. I had never come across this author before, and have to admit I chose the book for the title and cover, more than anything. But what a revelation it was. Such clever, witty and understated writing. There isn’t much of a plot - a wealthy 40 something widow has married a man 10 years her junior who is rather feckless and workshy, then an old family friend returns to the village. The story really examines the various relationships of the well drawn characters. It’s surprisingly racy for it’s time (late 50s?) and there is an unexpected ending that left my mouth agape. It was one of my favourite books - a perfect read.
I loved Elizabeth and her German Garden - written by the author of Enchanted April, and published, anonymously, in 1898. This was a joyous and authentic celebration of her love of nature and her, often hapless attempts to recreate her vision. I laughed so much, reading this short book - she is wickedly funny, and there are many acerbic observations on some of her acquaintances and the social situation of her time and position. Her love for her children - The Babies as she calls them, and her rather less affectionate relationship with “The Man of Wrath,” as she refers to her husband, is sharply drawn.
Yes, she lives a very privileged and selfish life, and some of the passages certainly made me wince - it’s definitely a book of its time, but through it, I could detect a deep sense of frustration at the constraints she felt as part of the minor aristocracy at the turn of the 19th Century.
This book - bought purely because the title fit into my Summer reading theme, was a bit of a curates egg, to be honest. I realise now that I read it in the wrong way, and should have been dipping into it as summer progressed. Instead I read it all at once - well over several days. It is a collection of nature writing, edited by Melissa Harrison - some older work, but quite a lot of it was “new nature writing” and I struggle with that particular genre at times. I find it often to be very formulaic and perhaps more about the author’s clever “writing” about the nature, or landscape or whatever, than about nature itself. I much preferred the older works - the Gilbert Whites, and W. H Hudsons than anything from this century. But that’s just me…
I ended up just ploughing through it to get to the end, which wasn’t the way to read it.
The Go-Between by L.P Hartley was my favourite book of the summer. It haunts me still. From that famous, poignant opening line:
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
right to the very end, I was hooked.
Set in the summer of 1900, it’s a quiet drama - almost gentle, gradually building to the inevitable climax, as the heatwave intensifies day by day. The writing is brilliant and beautiful, perfectly evoking the life of the English upper class in the decade before the Great War.
It’s the tale of a 12 year old boy, narrated by his older self, who goes to spend a summer with a school friend, and finds himself being caught up in a situation he is too young to cope with. Its a story of exploitation and loss of innocence, and the consequences of that in his later life.
I’ve somehow managed to never see any of the many film and TV adaptations of this novel, so I can’t comment on those. The book is truly magnificent though - I’ll read it again.
There was another book that I tried to read - a highly rated novel, written in 2016, but set at the beginning of WW2. I just couldn’t get to grips with it. I wont name it, because book reviews are highly subjective, but I found it contrived and wondered if the author should have been writing a screenplay instead of prose. Anyway, I struggled on for 75 pages before I had to throw in the towel. Normally I keep going with a book I’m not enjoying, more out of a sense of duty to the author, but I’m afraid I couldn’t with this one. Maybe another time.
And now to my current read. I’ve just started Jane Austen’s Emma - inspired in part by our visit to The Georgian House, but also because her writing is so enjoyable.This is more my kind of thing - sharp witty observations in a delightful setting - and a perfect August afternoon to read it.
So - that’s been my summer reading this year. Common themes have been, summer - obviously - war, class and society, and older rather than modern fiction. It’s been very interesting to look back on for this post, and I think its fair to say that, regardless of the weather, it’s been a great summer of books here - what about you?