ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judith Kinghorn was born in Northumberland, England, and is a graduate in English and History of Art. She is a former Woman of the Year and Fellow of the RSA. She debuted with the book The Last Summer, which was published in the UK, Canada and British Commonwealth countries in 2012, in the USA in 2013, and has been translated into several languages including German, Spanish, French and Italian. Her subsequent novels include The Memory of Lost Senses (2013), The Snow Globe (2015) and The Echo of Twilight (2017).
I was almost seventeen when the spell of my childhood was broken. There was no sudden jolt, no immediate awakening and no alteration, as far as I’m aware, in the earth’s axis that day. But the vibration of change was upon us and I sensed a shift: a realignment of my trajectory. It was the beginning of summer and, unbeknown to any of us then, the end of a belle époque…
In this book, the author tells the story of Clarissa, a young girl, and the change her life goes through amidst troubled times. We meet a girl forced to make a choice between what she wants and what the society and her mother expect from her. She faces prejudice, class distinctions as she falls in love with someone below her station, and pervasive sexism stops her from pursuing a career.
She does not do the ideal – and the usual – action of doing only what she wishes; Clarissa tries to please everyone, and faces the inevitable outcome of it. While it is not the best decision, it is the one that many of us choose.
This is a ‘genre-bending’ book (finally, I got to use this term!) with elements of historical, romantic and commercial women’s fiction, but, at its heart, it is the love story of Clarissa and Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper’s son, who is ambitious and well-educated but very far from her social equal. The class issue is interwoven with the trauma of the Great War and the way it affected and irrevocably changed British society at all levels, not sparing even the aristocracy to which Clarissa’s family belonged.
Clarissa gives a retrospective account of her story in a captivating style, which overlays her naivety and feelings at the time with a subtle sense of reminiscence. She is able to present her own perspective on her actions, thoughts and feelings, and the evocative style suits the story to perfection. Furthermore, her portrayal of the effects of war, not just the lives completely lost, but also those blighted by grief and the terrible aftermath faced by those who returned from the trenches, is very moving. It is integral to the characters’ experience and that is why The Last Summer so effectively drives home its love-across-the-class-divide theme. The only aspect that the story fails to address effectively is the number of thwarted encounters, which run the risk of trying the reader’s patience.
The parallel between Clarissa’s story and that of the society she lives in makes for a memorable reading experience. The Last Summer features many unforgettable characters, all of whom are well-developed and engaging. Clarissa’s character instantly endears herself to the readers, thanks to her undying enthusiasm, optimism and hope for a better future. Despite her cosseted lifestyle, she comes across as a fun and fearless girl and, as the story progresses, she exhibits a remarkable strength of character and determination for a girl of her era.
There was no thunderbolt, no quickening of the heart, but there was a sense of recognition. A familiarity about his face…
The book is a lot more than a story of the love affair of its protagonists; it is a book that will surprise many a reader both by bringing about a notable change in their opinions about women from a certain class as well as by seamlessly explaining the seismic shift experienced by the society to which they belonged. This is what makes this a unique novel – it contains vivid descriptions that can come alive even in the most unimaginative minds.
From a historical perspective, Kinghorn has clearly done her research, which is illustrated in the minute details that capture the pre- and post-War eras, lending a certain degree of credence to The Last Summer. Unlike other stories revolving around the Great War, this one doesn’t quite end with the War and homecoming, but rather embarks on a profound examination of its consequences along with the lives of those who survived it. As a result, The Last Summer effectively conveys how the Great War brought forth the end of an era and, with it, an inevitable loss of innocence.
The Last Summer is not suitable for readers looking for a happy and perfect ending. Scoring a 3.8 out of 5, it is meant for people who can digest and accept the gritty reality of human nature. It paints a world of harsh truths about a grim path, and a beautiful love story in between.
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