Book Review – June 2017 – Sallie Eden

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – Published by Bloomsbury in paperback, 2017

I spotted this book on a recent trip to Rye where it’s set. Written by the author of the wonderful Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, the story is set in the Summer of 1914. 

It took me quite a while to settle into it, partly because the style seemed to have strong echoes of Jane Austin (in the dialogue and subtle humour) and I found it difficult to imagine it set in the intended period. It wasn’t until about half way through that I began to enjoy it. 

The central character is Beatrice Nash: teacher, writer, spinster, unfitted for an era when women did not have careers or manage their own money. However it is the descriptions of some of the less central characters that really got to me. The lives of Daniel and Snout were particularly well drawn and very very moving. 

Although the outcome is fairly predictable, the writer does an excellent job of bringing into sharp focus the lot of both men and women and the “rules” relating to class in the early 20th century. No matter what’s happening in the world today, this book reminds us that many things have changed for the better. 

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