Thursday 29 March 2012


Book review: The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

My edition: Paperback, published on 1 March 2012 by Headline Review, 372 pages.

Description: 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.


The Book of Summers is the debut novel of UK writer Emylia Hall. However, you wouldn't know this if it weren't mentioned in the little bio in the front, as it's beautifully written and non-stop engaging. The book has a lot more depth than the cute flowery Summer-read the cover suggests it to have.

30 year-old Beth lives in London and spends most of her time in the art gallery where she works. She leads a bit of a lonely life but seems reasonably content with that. Until an unexpected visit from her father forces her to look at her past and reconsider some of the choices she's made. Her father, a man of few words, doesn't normally pop over from Devon unexpectedly so even before his arrival she already instinctively knows that something is wrong. This is confirmed when he shows her a package that came in the mail, one covered in foreign stamps.

Inside of it is a photobook chronicling the seven summers Beth spent in Hungary with her mother. As Beth turns the pages of the Book of Summers, the reader is transported into another place and time. Hall's account of the Hungarian countryside and people is extremely vivid and she makes the hot and exotic Summers sound magical and inviting, while the lush descriptions of the peppered food and homemade lemonade make mouths water. Throughout the years Beth, or Erzsi as she was known back then, changes from and innocent child into a teenager with conflicted emotions as she is torn between her bland life in England and the colourful Summer holidays in Hungary.

The big twist near the end of the novel doesn't leave as much of an impact as is intended, but that's okay. For me, this wasn't a novel about secret and intrigue or about finding out why Beth hasn't spoken to her mother in all these years. On the contrary. It was a story of rediscovery and finding out what's significant in the here and now. Even if this means realising that perhaps some decisions made in the past were not the right ones. You can reminiscence on the past but you can only change the course of your life in the present.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading The Book of Summers, it really is an exceptional debut. Far from the frolicky chick-lit I was expecting, it is a gem of a novel which I am ever so glad came into my mail box for review purposes as I probably wouldn't have known about the title otherwise.

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