The Summer before the War – Helen Simonson

I loved this book, I could have read more and more of it and it is already a hefty 496 pages long! Set in a small village in East Sussex during the summer of 1914 it follows the story of Beatrice, the new, controversially, female Latin teacher. With a whole host of characters making up the cast the author evocatively paints a picture of the quintessential English village. I have no idea how accurate it is not having lived during this period or indeed in an English village but it feels sincere and very real. I love the way she builds up the main characters so that they almost come off the page. The story essentially follows the lives of the main characters through the summer of 1914 and into the first winter of the war. From the drama of the minutiae of village life,  which she does brilliantly describing scenes so real you feel you could be there, to the vivid and stark description of trench life. She writes with humor and affection, bringing to life the intricate relationships between women in this hierarchical society. There are many stories set around the main one of Beatrice, as there are so many characters, but her story is one of how to exist as an independent educated woman in a patriarchal world.  There is so much to be explored in this book, the author addresses many big issues of the time such as homosexuality, refugees and the place of women, to name a few, but she has skillfully written it all into what is essentially a really good read, drawing you in and involving you in the lives of people you have grown fond of. It reminded me a bit of Downton Abbey which I also loved so if you enjoyed that I think you would enjoy this too!

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