Sunshine crept into Cornwall today, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect: it coincided with the publication of Isabel Ashdown’s third novel, named for and set in the sunniest summer in living memory.
Luke had grown up on the Isle of Wight, and he had reached the lovely point in life when he had finished with school, when he had a place at college and would leave home in the autumn. First though, he had a summer of freedom in front of him.
It didn’t play out quite as he’d expected.
He had a job at the leisure centre, and so did the girl he had his eye on. She had a boyfriend, and he and Luke didn’t get on. They split up, but what happened next rather took Luke by surprise. That maybe she wasn’t the girl he’d thought she was.
Brash new neighbours rocked the boat at home.
And Luke thought that his best friend was doing too much for his father, spending time at home, helping out with his business. Was he foolish to put his own plans on hold, was it a convenient way to avoid his friend, and things he hadn’t want to deal with, or was there rather more to the situation than Luke realised?
But the biggest thing was a scandal that broke. Luke’s parents were involved and he hated it, but he also felt some responsibility. Not for the scandal, but for the gossip and some rather startling physical evidence.
Lives played out on the pages of Summer of ’76. Ordinary lives, lived through times and events that would be remembered as being significant. And that is something that Isabel Ashdown does very, very well.
Her writing feels so natural, and I was pulled right into the time and the place. Characters and relationships are simply and clearly drawn, and they were so easy to believe in. These people could have been living in my own seaside town, everything that happened could have happened here.
The scenes set in Luke’s family home were, I thought, the strongest. The understanding of the family dynamic, and the capturing of the fine nuances of family life were wonderful. I was particularly taken with Luke’s father. There was one particular moment when he made a lovely gesture, and I thought that he had done just as my own father would have. Later in the book though, some of his actions infuriated me.
Lukes’s grandmother, on the other hand, was consistently brilliant.
There were times when the story moved slowly, but I never lost interest. There was a hint of the scandal to come at the start of the book, and of course that created a degree of suspense, but it was more than that. Once I had met these people, seen the families, seen the communities I was always going to hold on to see what they did, what would happen to them.
That summer, the oppressiveness of the heat, life in a small community, the point in a family’s history, so many details that rooted the story in the mid seventies, were caught absolutely perfectly.
The story unfolded beautifully. At times it was a little uneven, one or two things seemed a little improbable, but I didn’t find that too big a problem, because sometimes life happens that way. And this is one of those book that captures real lives, lived in a particular place and time, and makes them intriguing. There’s plenty to think about, lots of things that can be debated, and yet it never feels demanding.
Perfect reading for the long, hot summer that might just be on the way …