Much like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, also by the same author, I found The Summer Before the War to be difficult to sink my teeth into. Once the story caught me, I mostly enjoyed the book despite some misgivings.
It is 1914, and there are rumblings of war. Nevertheless, encouraged by a strong-willed woman whose husband has political connections, the little town of Rye in East Sussex, England selects Beatrice Nash to be the Latin professor in the local school. A woman teaching Latin? And a young and attractive woman to boot? Unheard of!
Beatrice is mourning the death of her beloved father, himself a professor. He has left her without a penny to her name, but with lots of ambition and a strong head on her shoulders. She is ready to take on the naysayers who doubt her abilities. It is the summer before the war that no one actually believes will take place.
Agatha – her outspoken supporter – along with her two nephews, both as different as night is from day and devoted to their aunt, roll with the punches as they fight the battles against the townspeople and eventually the actual battles against Germany.
Simonson’s novel paints a clear portrait of the impact that war has on those fighting the battles on the field and those fighting to keep their homes and their families together. Her characters are well-drawn and interesting. The novel has unexpected twists, and an ending that I wouldn’t have predicted. It was a surprise, if somewhat confusing.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I found it a bit slow in parts and can’t quite explain the ending. Still, it’s worth a read, especially if you read and enjoyed Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.