Having previously loved reading The Sea Between us by Emylia Hall, my review of which you can read here, when it came to my turn to choose a book for my reading group I was delighted to see The Book of Summers on the List. The Book of Summers was published by Headline Review in 2012 and is available for purchase through publisher links here.
The Book of Summers
Beth Lowe has been sent a parcel. Inside is a letter informing her that her long-estranged mother has died, and a scrapbook Beth has never seen before. Entitled The Book of Summers, it’s stuffed with photographs and mementos complied by her mother to record the seven glorious childhood summers Beth spent in rural Hungary. It was a time when she trod the tightrope between separated parents and two very different countries; her bewitching but imperfect Hungarian mother and her gentle, reticent English father; the dazzling house of a Hungarian artist and an empty-feeling cottage in deepest Devon. And it was a time that came to the most brutal of ends the year Beth turned sixteen.
Since then, Beth hasn’t allowed herself to think about those years of her childhood. But the arrival of The Book of Summers brings the past tumbling back into the present; as vivid, painful and vital as ever.
My Review of The Book of Summers
When The Book of Summers arrives in the post with a message telling Beth her mother, Marika, is dead, the recollections presented in the book force Beth to reconsider her past and who she has become.
If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to like the presentational device of looking through the pictures and remembering the past, but within a few pages I was completely enthralled by Emylia Hall’s writing and I found that I couldn’t get Marika out of my head so that I was thinking about her when I wasn’t reading. I think it’s interesting that I enjoyed the writing increasingly as Beth began to write more about Hungary – in much the same way as Beth enjoyed her life more there than in England.
The Book of Summers is an intense, beautifully written representation of growing up. The depth of emotion is almost unbearable at times and I felt a range of emotions from joy to melancholy, sadness to elation along with Beth as I read. I know I have been totally captivated when reading about the central character feels as if I’m reading about myself and Emylia Hall created exactly that sensation for me. There’s quite a reduced number of characters which I felt added an almost claustrophobic potency to the story. Save for a couple of incidents, there isn’t a hugely developed plot – a young woman looking over a book of photographs – but the uncovering of the past, the exemplification of relationships and the challenges of growing up are all truly wonderfully authored.
The poetic quality of the narrative is beautiful. Every sense is presented so vividly and evocatively that I was there swimming in the lake, smelling the citronella and feeling the heat of cracked leather car seats on the backs of my legs. I can’t believe that Emylia Hall isn’t as much of an artist as Zoltan as she paints such a magnificent kaleidoscopic canvas of words.
The Book of Summers is the perfect coming of age narrative, representing the true emotion of what makes us human. I loved it.
About Emylia Hall
Emylia Hall was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside, the daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker. After studying English and Related Literature at the universities of York and Lausanne, she spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps. It was there that she began to write. Emylia now lives in Bristol with her husband, the comic-book writer and children’s author, Robin Etherington. Her first novel, The Book of Summers, was a Richard & Judy Bookclub pick in 2012.