Hugh Grange, Beatrice Nash, Aunt Agatha. Bettina Fothergill, Mrs. Turber, Mr. Tillingham and Mr. Dimbly. Snout. How can names like these not intrigue us? They do, and the marvelous news is there are not only plenty more, but each one of these names is a totally fleshed-out character in the often enchanting, occasionally horrific, but always engrossing story line of Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War.
Set in East Sussex, Ms. Simonson’s second novel creates an Edwardian summertime in Rye so real you can almost hear the rustle of silk dresses and modest snapping of lace fans as the scent of flowers wafts from a jumble of fresh blooms in the English garden. Love is blooming, too. Of course.
All that changes when it’s apparent the country is drawn into what will become known as The Great War. Women plan fundraisers and organize parades, and men prepare to go to the front line, as the security and simplicity of a life and time begin to slip away forever.
Elegantly written, spiked with a delicious sense of humor, and with a powerful message, this book was a joy to read. In fact, I’ve just purchased Simonson’s debut novel, New York Times bestseller Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I hope a third is in the works.