Reading group reviews: The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall
24 May 2012 / 0 Comments
We gave away reading group sets of The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall. If your reading group or book club has read the book, please do use this page to post your reviews and see what other reading group members think of it.
About the book
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.
About the author
Emylia Hall was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside, the daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker. After studying at York University and in Lausanne, Switzerland, Emylia spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps. It was there that she began to write. Emylia now lives in Bristol with her husband, also an author. The Book of Summers is her first novel, and is inspired by evocative memories of childhood holidays spent in rural Hungary.
Follow Emylia on Twitter.
The group found The Book of Summers quite a struggle to 'get in to' and all members said that if hadn't been for the fact we were reading it for the group, we wouldn't have finished it; more than one person started the book and put it down for a few weeks before picking it up again. The struggle was around the lack of engagement with the story line, the characters and the pace. So, it felt like there was a lot of (irrelevant?) pieces of story going on, a lot of words used unnecessarily and, at times, quite superficial. We weren't sure if it was a light summer read (girl meets boy etc), a coming of age (for Beth) or a psychological account (of a young girl's traumatic childhood, or from the 'mother's perspective). We felt that the description of Hungary and of Marika was very romanticised to the point of being a cliché, in that she was the foreign impetuous type as opposed to her father's reticent Englishness; that the description of how a sixteen year old would just show no curiosity about her birth mother was unrealistic.
What we did enjoy was the twist in the book; none of us predicted the outcome (and we had found ourselves trying to think what the twist would be). It gave the book some interest and spurred us to continue. It enabled us to have a meaningful discussion about the different characters and their individual responses to the situations they found themselves in.
Market Harborough Reading Group
The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall is the deliciously readable coming-of-age story of Beth, or Erzsi, Lowe, a Devon teenager with an estranged mother in Hungary. When her absent mother dies, Beth, now an adult, is sent 'The Book of Summers', a photo album her mother compiled as a record of the seven summers of Beth's teenage years they spent together in Hungary. Hall uses the photos from each summer's visit to tell each part of the story. As a device it works extremely well and Hall's lyrical style takes the reader along on an emotional roller coaster of a ride through the turbulence felt by Beth, or Erzsi as she is known in Hungary, as she grows from an innocent 10 year old to a shattered 17 year old.
The characters are utterly believable and as the story unfolds we share in their joy and laughter and feel their pain and confusion. We know that after the seventh summer Beth abruptly severed all contact with everyone she had known in Hungary, including her mother, Marika, but Hall doesn't reveal why until the very last photo with a totally unexpected twist. En route to the twist we enjoyed the carefree Hungarian summer visits and reveled in Beth's new found freedom away from her straight-laced father; we enjoyed with her the new relationships she was making and fizzled with adolescent indignation along with her when things didn't seem to go her way.
It is a beautiful and joyful story but also a heartbreaking tale about families and relationships, love and deceit and you'll definitely need your tissues.
West Rainton Reading Group
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