Two “Summer” Books

With summer winding down, I decided it was time to read a couple of books with the word in the title to try to keep the season alive. These turned out to be charming, low-key English novels that I would recommend to fans of costume dramas. Both:

 

I knew very little about Jonathan Smith’s Summer in February when I picked it up in a charity shop. From the ads for the 2013 film adaptation with Dan Stevens, I had in mind that this was an obscure classic. It was actually published in 1995, but is inspired by real incidents spanning 1909 to 1949. It’s set among a group of Royal Academy-caliber artists in Lamorna, Cornwall, including Alfred Munnings, who went on to become the academy’s president.

The crisis comes when Munnings and Captain Gilbert Evans, a local land manager, fall for the same woman. A love triangle might not seem like a very original story idea, but I enjoyed this novel particularly for its Cornish setting (“From dawn to dusk it had rained non-stop, as only Cornwall can”; “The sea was slate grey and the sky streaky bacon”) and for the larger-than-life Munnings, who has a huge store of memorized poetry and is full of outspoken opinions. Two characters describe his contradictions thusly: “I can see he’s crude and loud and unpolished and Joey says he cuts his toenails at picnics but…”; “he’s one in a million, a breath of fresh air, and he’s frank and fearless, which is always a fine thing.” The title refers to the way that love can make any day feel like summer.

The cover image is the painting Morning Ride by A.J. Munnings.

For more information on Munnings, see here.

For more information on Gilbert Evans, see here. (Beware the spoilers!)

 

From 1961, In a Summer Season was Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth novel. The ensemble cast is led by Kate Heron – newly remarried to Dermot, a man ten years her junior, after the death of her first husband – and made up of her family circle, a few members of the local community, and her best friend Dorothea’s widower and daughter, who return from living abroad about halfway through the book. Set in the London commuter belt, this is full of seemingly minor domestic dilemmas that together will completely overturn staid life before the end.

From Kate dyeing her hair yet being keen to avoid accusations of “mutton dressed as lamb” to her son Tom’s disgust at his grandfather’s ageing body, old age and wasting one’s time on trivialities are a twin paranoia here. The title is not only a literal note of when much of the action takes place, but also a metaphor for the fleeting nature of happiness (as well as life itself). Kate remembers pleasant days spent with her best friend and their young children: “It was a long summer’s afternoon and it stood for all the others now. There had been many. And she and Dorothea were together day after day. Their friendship was as light and warming as the summer’s air.”

So much happens in the last seven pages. I wished the book could have turned out differently, yet the conclusion effectively sews it all up, and all within a cozy 220 pages. If you enjoy writers like Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym, you must try Elizabeth Taylor. Her work is similarly built around wry, perceptive observations about relationships and ways of life. This was my fourth novel by her, and I’d call it my second favorite so far after Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.

 

(Secondhand books are such good value: These two charity shop paperbacks cost me less than 85 pence in total. Such a low total spend per hour of enjoyment!)

 

 

This month I also read The Summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt (discussed here along with a few other recent reads). Earlier in the year I reviewed Ricarda Huch’s The Last Summer, and last year I reviewed the Summer anthology from the Wildlife Trusts. “Summer” turns up fairly frequently in titles of books I’ve read or want to read, in fact. Here’s the whole list!

Have you read any “Summer” books lately?

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15 thoughts on “Two “Summer” Books

    1. You’re welcome. I only knew about it because of hearing about the film, which I’d still like to see. Jonathan Smith has seven novels in total, as well as two memoirs and some radio plays. I’ll have to look into his work some more and see if there’s anything else I’d like to read.

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  1. Summer in February sounds good for the Cornish connection – I wonder whether I’ll light upon a copy when I’m down there again in a month! I’m on Lake Como in September with my current read, which seems nicely apt, as I won’t get it finished by the end of tomorrow.

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  2. I’ve not read any Taylor yet but one of her books is on my 20 Books of Summer list (which will now be 20 Books of Fall at this rate, ha ha.) It’s At Mrs. Lippincote’s. I am excited to read it as I’ve read so many good things about her books.

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  3. I’ve had my eye out at book sales and used book stores for books by Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, and a few other similar-era authors I’ve heard so much about since I started blogging, but they seem to be really scarce around here. Still, I have other books to keep me company until I manage to come across some. 🙂 And the library has a very few…

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  4. I read Rumer Godden’s Greengage Summer, encouraged by the Virago group on LibraryThing. It was a good summer read, a little surprising toward the end, but based on the author’s expereince in her own coming-of-age years, which made it more curious. And I just finished a reread of Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn, so I suppose I should have a look for a ‘winter’ option next (I’m never on time for these things, so I’d better take advantage). Which Taylor do you think you might read next? I don’t think she has an autumn option…

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    1. I’d be interested in reading something by Godden. There was a copy of her Kingfishers Catch Fire on a bargain shelf in Hay-on-Wye for £1, but I didn’t end up getting it.

      Good job finding an autumn-titled book! I don’t think there are that many. I read the Pym earlier in the year and loved it. Lots with ‘Winter’ on my GR shelves, though.

      My previous library system had tons of Taylor paperbacks, but I haven’t investigated whether my new one has much to choose from. I’ll leave it at least a few months and then have a look. I prefer not to binge on a beloved author. (What about you?)

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