The Summer Before the War
By Helen Simonson
Random House, 2016. 496 pgs. Fiction
Beatrice Nash, in mourning for her father, moves to the tiny coastal town of Rye, England in the summer of 1914 to work as a Latin teacher. A single, well-educated (some say overly-educated) young woman with limited income, she struggles against the limitations her status and gender place upon her. As the summer passes and war looms, she develops a close friendship with Agatha Kent, a prominent and free-thinking member of Rye society, and Agatha’s two adult nephews, Hugh and Daniel.
I loved this book. The witty and pointed social commentary, clever characterizations, subtle feminism, and small-town English setting reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, and I was sad to say goodbye to the characters as it came to an end. Helen Simonson’s wry humor was delightful, but she also depicts the horrors of war with heart wrenching clarity. Downton Abbey enthusiasts who miss the Dowager Countess or fans of Simonson’s earlier novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand are sure to enjoy this new release.