Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn


I was almost seventeen when the spell of my childhood was broken...It was the beginning of summer and, unbeknown to any of us then, the end of a belle epoque...

In July of 1914, innocent, lovely Clarissa Granville lives with her parents and three brothers in the idyllic isolation of Deyning Park, a grand English country house, where she whiles away her days enjoying house parties, country walks and tennis matches. Clarissa is drawn to Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper's handsome son. Though her parents disapprove of their upstairs-downstairs friendship, the two are determined to see each other, and they meet in secret to share what becomes a deep and tender romance. But soon the winds of war come to Deyning, as they come to all of Europe. As Tom prepares to join the front lines, neither he nor Clarissa can envision what lies ahead of them in the dark days and years to come. Nor can they imagine how their love will be tested, or how they will treasure the memory of this last, perfect summer.

NAL Trade | December 31, 2012 | 464 pages

My Review

4.5 Stars

Judith Kinghorn's debut novel, The Last Summer, is the type of book you'll want to curl up with and not put down.  The novel opens in England in July of 1914, at Deyning Park, the stately country home of the wealthy Granville family.  For Clarissa Granville, the youngest child and only daughter, the summer is a time to relax and spend time with family and friends.   Rather than spend time with those in her own circle, however, Clarissa befriends Tom Cuthbert, the son of Deyning Park's housekeeper.  Although her parents do not approve of her burgeoning friendship with Tom, Clarissa refuses to end it.  As the weeks pass, Clarissa and Tom's relationship deepens and becomes much more than one of simple friendship.  When the events that have been threatening peace in Europe erupt into a full-scale war, the lives of those at Deyning Park, like those of all inhabitants of Great Britain, are forever changed.  What follows is a story of love and loss, of lives torn apart by war, and of a society undergoing immense social change.

Judith Kinghorn's eloquent prose evokes a strong sense of both time and place.  As a result, The Last Summer effectively conveys how the Great War brought forth the end of an era, and with it a loss of innocence.  The novel also successfully captures the horrors of war, the efforts of those back at home to carry-on, and the post-war struggles of those who survived, who must now pick up the pieces of their lives and come to terms with a significantly altered society.  The Last Summer features many memorable characters, all of whom are well-developed and engaging.  Clarissa, whose voice is used to tell this story, is particularly well-drawn, and her maturation and growth are clearly evident as the novel progresses.  Clarissa's complex relationship with Tom, which underpins the entire narrative and in many respects comes to define both of their lives, is also well done and completely draws the reader into the story.  One of my favourite aspects of this novel is the role of Deyning Park in the narrative.  Featured throughout the book, Deyning Park becomes a principal character.  In many ways the changes that occurred to this great house mirror those that take place within English society as a whole.

An excellent novel, The Last Summer is highly recommended to readers of historical fiction interested in WWI and post-WWI England.  

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.