The Summer Before the War

Helen Simonson. Random House, $28 (496p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9310-3
Simonson’s dense follow-up to the bestselling Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand focuses on gender, class, and social mores in the town of Rye in Sussex, England, at the dawn of World War I. Following the death of her father, who raised her to be intelligent and worldly, writer Beatrice Nash looks forward to tutoring three boys in Latin before she begins her position at school in the fall. Her advocate is the shrewd Agatha Kent, a discreet progressive who’s married to John, a senior official in the military. The childless couple love their grown nephews, Hugh Grange, who is destined to be a doctor, and Daniel Bookham, a handsome poet who hopes to move to Paris and start his own journal with a friend. As a woman, Beatrice doesn’t have much clout, nearly losing her job to nepotism and being dismissed by her favorite author, her relatives, and her dad’s publishing house. Simonson does a great job crafting the novel’s world. It’s a large book, and the plot takes its time to get going, but the story becomes engaging after Germany invades Belgium and Rye takes in refugees. Simonson’s writing is restrained but effective, especially when making quiet revelations. A heartbreaking but satisfying ending seems fitting for a story about the social constructs that unfairly limit people and their potential. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/11/2016
Release date: 03/22/2016
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 496 pages - 978-0-385-67706-6
Compact Disc - 978-1-101-88857-5
Paperback - 704 pages - 978-0-451-48211-2
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-385-67708-0
Paperback - 512 pages
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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