While Beth is sitting in Victoria Park, London, the reader journeys alongside her into those six summers of visits to Hungary interspersed with moments of reality. We are completely immersed in the world as it was at that time. Those sun-drenched summers are portrayed with life and zest. Beth often compares herself to her mother as she tries to find her own place of belonging. The writing is evocative and the author uses figurative language to draw the reader’s imagination (I loved Hall’s writing style). As each year Beth is older, the author captures exactly the growth of the child from the innocence of the early days to the hedonistic teenager.
It is such a vibrant world. I experienced a different culture and so was also able to expand my own horizons. It is clear that the author has spent time in Hungary and has drawn on her own experiences.
The other characters – Zoltan, her mother’s partner; Tamas, the boy next door; were very real to me. Emylia Hall magically weaves their personalities from their actions – we are shown rather than told, which if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know I love!
I didn’t see the crisis coming! Of course we know something brutal happens from the synopsis but not only was I so caught up in the experience of those Hungarian summers, I would never have been able to predict what was coming. There is only one clue to what it could be but the author cleverly drops this in at a very emotional moment when the reader isn’t concentrating on the why, only what is. I was stunned. I cried. I think this shows how emotionally involved I was in this world!
The sadness of the book coming into Beth’s life is the timing.
“How would it have been, if things had been different?” Beth asks her father.
The beauty of the book is that it unlocks Beth’s soul and allows her to reclaim a large part of her childhood that had previously been lost.
“Sometimes if you don’t go backwards, you can’t move forwards” Marika once said when she was trying to explain why she’d returned to Hungary.
The truths and honesty her father shares with her also allow for the healing to take place… so alongside the bone-aching sorrow is the chance to become whole.
I predict The Book of Summers will become widely read both at an individual level and with book groups. I will certainly be looking out for other novels by this author.
I read this uncorrected proof as part of The Real Readers programme.