The Latin teachers of my acquaintance lead rather mundane lives compared to our novel’s heroine. At every turn, she is confronted with sharp-tongued gossips, life and death situations, and hormonal upheavals I was pleasantly exhausted when I turned the final page; relieved for Beatrice, broken-hearted for Agatha, and feeling quite bereft about Snout and his dog. Celeste – well, she and I did not bond. This little slice of life before the war is carefully and cleverly crafted. Simonson weaves the myriad of historical situations in 1914 England from fleeing Belgians, men and women who are outliers both political and sexual, to the subtle navigation through village life and its classist system.
The scope of this novel is wide, which is a treat to those who immerse themselves in setting and the nuance of history, but this precludes depth with the characters on a level I prefer. It left me hoping for a companion novel. Those who enjoyed her first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand will not be disappointed here.
Simonson, Helen. The Summer Before the War. New York: Random House, 2016. Print.