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The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson

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The audio, read by Fiona Hardingham., described in picture perfect detail, the emotions caused by rising influences of world events as even the small town of East Sussex was lurching toward war. Questions of what is most important when lives are at stake was dramatically presented in several scenes, most especially toward the end of the book. ( )
  nyiper | Nov 24, 2017 |
The Summer Before the War is a rather misleading title, since war is declared partway through, interrupting the tea parties and small-town politics, and summer ends before the book does. Fortunately, I also like stories set during world wars.

Hugh, a medical student, and his cousin Daniel, recently graduated from Oxford, have grown up spending summers with their Aunt Agatha and Uncle John in the coastal town of Rye. In the summer of 1914, they became caught up in Agatha’s latest project: getting a woman appointed as the Latin teacher at the local grammar school. The newly-arrived teacher, Beatrice, is grieving for her father, desperate for independence from her disapproving relatives, and much younger than anyone expects. When the success of her appointment is thrown into doubt, Hugh and Daniel step forward.
And then war is declared, and the village takes in a group of Belgium refugees, and young men begin signing up.

The Summer Before the War pulled me in and then broke my heart. I fell in love with the characters, especially Agatha and Beatrice, with their passions for change, for education, for helping others, and their very human limitations.

There are charming, picturesque “summer in the countryside” aspects to this story. Even after war breaks out, there are things to be hopeful about. But this isn’t a romanticised idea of the past. It doesn’t shy away from the problematic attitudes and injustices within the community - and some of those attitudes really surprised me.

It was interesting reading this so soon after The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, because both deal with similar themes and scandals - but The Summer Before the War does so with greater subtlety and nuance. At first it seems like there’s a significant shift partway through this story when war breaks out, and yet it continues to be a tightly focused exploration of social politics, prejudice and and consequences of breaking with convention. I appreciated the way all the pieces ultimately fitted together, even the way the final ‘twist’ was something I had suspected.

I’m going to have trouble choosing only a dozen favourite books at the end of the year, but I think this will be on that list.

”I only know that I want to teach something other than elementary school,” [Beatrice] said. “I want to teach and study and write, as my father did, and to have my efforts treated no less seriously just because I am a woman.”
Agatha sighed. “You are an educated person and can be of use to the country, but women like us need to demonstrate our worth, rather than demonstrating in the streets. Besides,” she added, “we don’t need all the housemaids declaring their independence and running off to join the music hall, do we?”
“Who would boil the tea?” said Beatrice, before she could stop herself.
( )
  Herenya | Nov 18, 2017 |
Beatrice Nash arrives in East Sussex late in the summer of 1914 as the newly hired Latin teacher for the school at Rye and the first woman appointed to the post. Lady Agatha advocated for the hiring of Beatrice, and she is prepared to do all in her power to ensure that Beatrice is a success. This may be a bit of a challenge since Beatrice does not fit the typical “spinster” mold—she is more attractive than anticipated and not afraid to share her well-informed thoughts. At the age of 23, she is determined never to marry since she values her independence and her intellect and suspects that husbands are unlikely to value the latter. However, rumors abound, including those that she has ensnared the affections of Lady Agatha’s two nephews—Hugh, a surgical student, and Daniel, an aspiring poet—who are staying with their aunt for the summer. Of greater concern is the prospect of a looming war in Europe, which threatens to bring the beautiful summer to an end and destabilize the existing social order. I enjoyed this book, which opens a comedy of manners as it lobs well-aimed jabs at the snobbery and biases associated with gender and class in early 20th century England before transitioning into a story of war both in the trenches and on the home front. Beatrice is an engaging central protagonist who must face numerous challenges, which are only occasionally of her making, and generally does so with wit and aplomb. Though none of the central characters are members of a “great” family like the Crawleys of "Downton Abbey", "The Summer Before the War" will appeal to fans of the show. (There are references to footmen, lady’s maids, the dressing gong, and new-fangled telephones.) It will also appeal to fans of Simonson’s first book (Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) and "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society". I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator is excellent.

Rachel H. / Marathon County Public Library
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( )
  mcpl.wausau | Sep 25, 2017 |
Pleasant, women's lack of rights,
  Cyss | Sep 12, 2017 |
I really liked this- more of a 4.5 for me so as I brew on it maybe I'll bump it up. Not perfect because - gasp- you have to wait for it.

Ok here is the real review, via audio book. The Narrator was awesome. Some of the day to day life was more like Middlemarch than a modern book but that is ok when you trust an author, and I totally do here. I adored her first book so kept telling myself to be patient because I knew the story would really grab hold.

English village life, perfect summer, orphaned woman struggles to make it without the trust fun and its demands, two handsome cousins, their loving imperfect Aunt and we know WWI is coming.

Is this Downton Abbey? Not near so posh. Birdsong? Not near so heavy but a bit. Middlemarch? Yes but for WWI.

A bit too detailed in places but very active voice-you will be able to picture everything that unfolds and that is A++ in my book. So if you are a patient person and love a good old fashioned English love / Carry On story, this book is for you. ( )
  sydsavvy | Sep 5, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
Now Simonson is back with The Summer Before the War, a gentle comedy of provincial manners that rivals her first in the charm department...In The Summer Before the War, the novelist's attention to sensory detail is lovely, simple yet evocative.... Droll dialogue dominates, with gentle zingers regularly applied. There are the time-tested markers of small town life: a parade, a harvest festival, country dances....The contrast between pastoral peace and the violent chaos of war is what gives this novel its heft;
Rather than making characters sympathetic, this virtuous quirk prevents the reader from discovering the mild contradictions in human nature. And that is what we travel to social-comedy land to enjoy.
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To my parents, Alan and Margaret Phillips
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The town of Rye rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light.
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The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.

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. [retrieved 3/24/2016 from Amazon.com]
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East Sussex, 1914. Hugh Grange is down from his medical studies, visiting relatives. His Aunt Agatha 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 than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing, but the perfect summer is about to end as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war in the Balkans.… (more)

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