100 years ago today marks the end of the first world war. In the serendipity that is my library request list, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson appeared on my hold shelf about a week ago. So it was that I found myself reading a story about the outbreak of the war while my community prepared to commemorate its end.
In truth, I had placed my name on the waiting list for the book because it was on an “If you like Downton Abbey…” reading list. And it is indeed Downton Abbey-like in its exploration of the way the war affected a small English town. We don’t get a lot of details about what’s happening abroad. The story focuses on the personal rather than the political aspects of the war. It’s about lack of food in the shops, inability to travel, and changed career plans. But the part of the story that fascinated me the most is the portrayal of women’s lives at the time, especially the twenty-three year-old Latin teacher who struggles to be independent from the oversight of the trustees who manage her inheritance. It was another world in terms of how women were permitted to live, but it was a time of change.
If you like gentle stories full of historical details and wry wit, this is a good choice for you. If you are more interested in an account of the war itself, try Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan, which I wrote about here. Or if you want to read about the American home front, don’t miss one of my favorite books Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen.