12. The Summer Before the War


“The town of Rue rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light.”

The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson

You do not have to be a terribly devoted reader of this blog to know that a book with a title like this is going to press my buttons, given that the War in question is the Great one.  Indeed, one might ask oneself why on earth it took me, the obsessive reader of WWI fiction and non-fiction so long to pick this up.  It is a mystery to myself as well - the cover is so, so appealling to me, and I must have picked it up about ten times before I bit the bullet and bought it.

Don’t be a fool like me.  Grab this right now.  It is so, so good.  It starts in summer 1914 (the titular summer), with Beatrice Nash arriving in the small English town of Rye to be the (gasp!) first female Latin teacher in the local school’s history.  It is imperative this goes well - local doyenne Agatha Kent has staked her reputation on this hire.  So it’s a bit unnerving when Miss Nash, despite her stated spinsterhood, is a little younger and more beautiful than the town had anticipated.  Off we are set into a Thirkell like tale of the trials and tribulations of small town life - a delight in itself.  But, of course, this is 1914, and a much a larger problem is about to take over the life of the town, the nation, and the world.

You guys know I am a sucker for World War One tales, and this one hits me right in the feels.  But beyond that, it is just such a fun read.  The characters feel real - flawed and delightful, the small town life expertly captured.  There is a Henry James pastiche that just perfectly captures what he must have been like.  There are plot twists and turns - there is an terribly touching ending that continues to stick with me long after I finished the book (and given my terrible ignoring of the blog, that was quite a while ago).  Read it.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017