“As the years passed, and I strengthened my resolve, my childhood fell to time. And I drew a lid on it, as one might the contents of an old chest, pushed to the corner of an attic.”
All week I’ve been carrying The Book of Summers with me, and opening it whenever I could so that I could be transported into another world.
First there was London, where thirty-year old Beth worked in an art gallery and lived a quiet life. The details of her world, her life, her situation were so well drawn that I was pulled in straight away.
Beth’s equilibrium was disturbed by a visit from her father. They had been close when she was a child and he was bringing her up alone, she remembered that well, and yet they had drifted apart and their relationship had become strangely formal.
He brought a package that had arrived for his daughter. A package from Hungary, where for seven summers Beth had visited the mother who had left when she was still an infant.
Beth didn’t want to open the package; she and her mother had been estranged since her last visit, when she was sixteen years-old; she didn’t want to revisit the past. But she had to, she had to know what was in the package, why it had been sent.
And so it was that Beth opened The Book of Summers, the record that her mother had kept of those seven visits.
She sat in Victoria Park with the book, and as she read she relived those seven summers. And I relived them with her, completely transported to other times and places.
I saw cool, damp Devon and warm, dry Hungary. I saw an old-fashioned, undemonstrative father and a warm, outgoing mother. I saw a quite day-to-day routine in Devon, and holiday fun in Hungary. And I saw Beth begin to grow up; a coming of age, very nearly.
It’s a slow story, a little short on plot but long on wonderful descriptions, well drawn characters, real emotions, and intriguing details, that bring the child and her world to life wonderfully well.
The child’s perspective is held perfectly, but there was also space that allowed me to see how she had been affected by her family circumstances and things changed from one visit to the next.
I was completely caught up in Beth’s life, I was always aware that something must go wrong, that something must have happened for there to have been such a long estrangement.
Something did go wrong, and I understood Beth’s reaction and her behaviour completely. I wasn’t quite as convinced about how her family had dealt with certain things in the past, but in the end I decided that though it was unlikely it was possible. People sometimes do some very foolish things.
And then I was swept away, to an ending that was bittersweet and exactly right.
This is a lovely debut novel, and it would suit leisurely reading on a warm summer day very, very well …