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The Summer Before the War Bets On...

The Summer Before the War

April 2016

THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR by Helen Simonson takes place during the summer before World War I. Set in East Sussex (where Helen was raised) in 1914, Beatrice Nash has arrived in town to teach. Agatha Kent, who has lobbied for her tenure there, is distressed to learn that Beatrice is not some old schoolmarm type, but rather a pretty and bright young woman. Beatrice is clearly saddened by the death of her father and seems to be viewing her time in Sussex as an opportunity to read, escape, and be alone with her books and her bicycle. She quickly acclimates to the small town, but not without moments where faux pas are made as she learns the idiosyncrasies of the folks in the town.

While these are not the people who inhabit Downton Abbey, the same spirit of propriety and politeness imbues this book. The characters are well-drawn, and I found myself smiling and thinking about them crossing paths with the Crawleys.  

The toll of war, waiting for it, being in the early days of it, and the dread of feeling that it never will end clearly grab the reader. Helen’s writing is very descriptive; each time I picked up the book, I had to take time to settle in and absorb all the details. I found myself lingering over sentences as so much are packed into them. I would have loved a glimpse at her research notes.

I had the pleasure of hearing Helen speak about THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR at a luncheon in the fall, and I am going to be interviewing her at the Random House Open House event in late April. Fans of MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND will be lining up to read this book, which was named as a #1 selection from Library Reads. There’s a lot to compare and contrast between the two novels. Books groups, especially those who love historical fiction, should queue up!

The Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson

  • Publication Date: February 21, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0812983203
  • ISBN-13: 9780812983203