The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War

A Novel

Large Print - 2016
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * "A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community."-- The Washington Post

The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England's brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha's husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won't come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.
When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking--and attractive--than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.
But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha's reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.
Praise for The Summer Before the War
"What begins as a study of a small-town society becomes a compelling account of war and its aftermath." -- Woman's Day
"This witty character study of how a small English town reacts to the 1914 arrival of its first female teacher offers gentle humor wrapped in a hauntingly detailed story." -- Good Housekeeping
"Perfect for readers in a post- Downton Abbey slump . . . The gently teasing banter between two kindred spirits edging slowly into love is as delicately crafted as a bone-china teacup. . . . More than a high-toned romantic reverie for Anglophiles--though it serves the latter purpose, too." -- The Seattle Times
"[Helen Simonson's] characters are so vivid, it's as if a PBS series has come to life. There's scandal, star-crossed love and fear, but at its heart, The Summer Before the War is about loyalty, love and family." -- AARP: The Magazine

"This luminous story of a family, a town, and a world in their final moments of innocence is as lingering and lovely as a long summer sunset." --Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us and co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
"Simonson is like a Jane Austen for our day and age--she is that good--and The Summer Before the War is nothing short of a treasure." --Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun

From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: New York : Random House Large Print, 2016, ♭2016
Edition: First large print edition
ISBN: 9780451482112
Branch Call Number: LP SIMO
Characteristics: 689 pages ; 24 cm


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Feb 17, 2020

I borrowed this book because the title sounded interesting and I was in a hurry to download something to read for a weekend away. It wasn't until too late that I realized I had read it before. But since I had nothing else to read, I continued. I gradually remembered how much I had enjoyed this book before, and quickly grew to love it again. I've just put my name on the list to read Simonson's first book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I wonder if I'll have the same experience with that book.

Dec 14, 2019

Part of our reading project, this is a romance story with predictable outcome. Strong history and culture research make this an interesting read. Victorian England is not a time or place I'd wish to visit in my time machine. I understand why H.G. Wells wanted to escape it.

IndyPL_SteveB Aug 17, 2019

In her second novel, Simonson proves that the best-seller success of *Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand* was no fluke.

The “War” of the title is “The Great War” – World War One – and the novel begins in June, 1914. It is the summer of the year but also a “summer” period in England’s history, with the harshest of winters soon to come. Beatrice Nash arrives in the small village of Rye, in East Sussex, ready to take on the teaching of Latin in the village school. She discovers that a couple of slightly progressive women have been pushing for her, even though some of the village is scandalized that they did not hire a man for the position.

As we learn about the village characters and the various small dramas that occur in any village, we begin to realize that a dark cloud in moving over Europe. It is clear that war cannot be avoided and the war effort takes over village life. Eventually many of the men enlist and the book’s humorous beginnings give way to the drama of who will survive and how will the village be changed by the war.

Simonson is a wonderful writer, with the precise amount of description and clever details that allow the reader to feel as if they can see the village of Rye, hear its sounds, and smell the bread baking. We become personally involved in the fates of the characters and of the village itself.

Aug 15, 2019

Started this one as an audio book and couldn't engage, but as a book I found it fascinating and love the historical detail!

Aug 14, 2019

I didn't find this historical novel of the same caliber as "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand." WW I soon breaks breaks out, making a mockery of the title. Many of the characters are also made mockery of as well. Some are tedious, smarmy, or too good to be true. A few are very well drawn, like the Gypsy boy "Snout," enthusiastic about Latin, but who comes to believe, with the residents of Rye, England, that his background will force him to follow the life of his illiterate blacksmith father. Beatrice, who lost her father a year before, is the naive young heroine. She comes to Rye to teach her beloved Latin in the local school, with great hopes for training scholars. She's unaware that her late father put his fortune in trust for her, leaving her only 10 pounds per week to live on. The poor local solicitor overseeing her money proposes, saying that will solve both their problems. Beatrice may be naive, but she's independent and learns fast, turning down him and all other such propositions. Hugh, to whom Beatrice is attracted, is all but engaged, as a condition of inheriting the surgical practice of his mentor, is not the only young man she meets who is all but forced into the Army when war breaks out. The town's women, who logically want to be involved in the War effort, sign on to help Belgian refugees, then fight over who get the "good ones," and who has to take the leftovers. While the petty infighting doesn't stop here, when the scene shifts to France where the men of the community meet each other, the quality of the writing and the pace of the book pick up for me. Who ends up marrying whom isn't a surprise, and the impact of the war isn't either. The ending is more satisfying than the beginning implies.

Jun 19, 2019

I found the first 100 pages a bit of a challenge, but hung in there because of the favourable reviews. It wasn’t until I completed reading before I realized that what seemed arduous reading at the beginning was actually laying the ground for what was to come.
So I returned to the beginning 100 pages and read them thoroughly this time.

Mar 07, 2019

Kindle Immersion Read
Helen Simonson does it again! She's created a vivid picture of the time and painted lovely characters to tell the story.

Nov 27, 2018

A great read. This stands out among other books with similar subject matter. Great character descriptions with some droll humour . I could not stop reading til I finished it.
The settings are authentic in the details, of the early 20th century.

Nov 26, 2018

A slog. Endless descriptions of what characters wore and ate. Read Simonson's source materials instead.

Jul 17, 2018

I loved this novel! It took me awhile to get involved in it, as it started somewhat slowly. It was a different book than "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," which was a great read and absorbing right from the beginning.

Apparently there are some anachronisms, such as Agatha and other characters wanting to be addressed by their first names, but that is more the fault of the editor than Helen Simonson (editor? what's that?). A big point is made at the oppression women faced at the time, all too real, given that they did not yet even have the right to vote. I was a bit disappointed that Beatrice Nash, obviously a smart, spirited young woman, didn't speak up at various points in the novel, but there you go.

The depictions of WWI and its brutal effects on the English are heartrending. Simonson portrays well the fatuousness of those in the population who thought enlisting was some sort of lark or adventure. "Testament of Youth" was one of the books used as a source for her novel.

Anyway, if you are interested in this period and in English village life, you won't be disappointed. Well-written with vivid descriptions, and a light and at times comic touch.

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