I think I am one of ten people in America who has never watched Downton Abbey. Which is strange, because I love period dramas, and am mildly obsessed with pre-war, Edwardian British society. Notwithstanding, I have never once watched Downton Abbey.
However, I recently stumbled upon a couple of blog posts written by a blogger named Sarah at Reading the Past here which provide a list of books for fans of Downton Abbey. These posts expanded my TBR list while simultaneously depleting my bank account. The Last Summer is the first book from the list that I read.
In many ways, The Last Summer is reminiscent of Atonement, by Ian McEwan. It is set during that time period immediately pre-WWI, during the last, golden summer before war breaks out and England is forever changed. The main character, Clarissa Granville, is the daughter of the house at Deyning Park, who falls in love with Tom Cuthbert, the son of one of the servants.
The Last Summer is not exactly a romance, although it has strong romantic elements. It is a coming of age story of a young woman living in a time of great change. Clarissa is not a young woman who is ahead of her time. In fact, in many ways, she is a disappointing heroine because she is so flawed and passive. The one really rebellious thing she does is to fall in love with Tom Cuthbert.
While there were points at which I wanted to shake Clarissa into finding a bit of backbone to stand up to her overbearing mother or to make a decision that wasn’t merely what was expected of her, overall, I loved this book. This period in history is hard to read about. Thousands of young men died in the trenches, and those who didn’t die returned from war damaged in body and soul. The family members left on the home front suffered terribly. I highly recommend The Last Summer – I thoroughly enjoyed it even if the middle section of the book is so full of sadness that it is difficult to read. And while it isn’t strictly a romance, there is a happily ever after.