It’s scorching hot in Mumbai, the summer having reached its peak. Today, when I lifted my head from the computer, I saw dust motes swirling in the funnel of light streaming through the window, a scene that reminded me of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage series and the wonderful way in which she depicts the magnificence of light.
Anyway, it got me thinking about summer light and books set during this season. And so without much ado, here are some of my favourite ‘summer’ books read in the last couple of years; they display a range of themes and emotions – passion, nostalgia, innocence, desire, violence, dreaminess and joy.
THE GREENGAGE SUMMER by Rumer Godden
The Greengage Summer is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale of love, deceit and new experiences, a beguiling mix of light and darkness set in the luxurious champagne region of France.
Our narrator is the charming Cecil Grey, aged thirteen and at the cusp of womanhood. Cecil has an elder sister, the beautiful Joss aged sixteen, while the younger siblings are Hester and the Littles (Will and Vicky). Fed up with their continuous grumbling, the mother whisks them off to France to see the battlefields hoping that some kind of an exposure and knowledge about other people’s sacrifices will open their eyes to how self-absorbed they are.
But all their best laid plans go awry when the mother falls ill. Thus, once at the hotel, the children are largely left to their own devices and latch on to the mysterious Elliott who takes them under his wing much to the chagrin of his lover and the owner of the hotel, Mademoiselle Zizi.
This is a beautiful book with evocative descriptions of a languid French summer. Despite the joys of new experiences, there are darker currents with hints of violence, death, sinister happenings. Cecil, accustomed to the straightforward world of children, is often confused by the behaviour of the adults around her, the ease with they lie and extricate themselves from a challenging situation. And she and Joss are faced with the possibility that Eliot may not be what he seems, he has his own secrets to hide.
THREE SUMMERS – Margerita Liberaki (tr. Karen Van Dyck)
Bursting with vibrant imagery of a sun-soaked Greece, Three Summers is a sensual tale that explores the lives and loves of three sisters who are close and yet apart given their different, distinctive personalities.
First published in 1946, the novel’s original Greek title when literally translated means The Straw Hats. Indeed, like the first brushstrokes in a painting, the first image presented to us is of the three sisters wearing their newly bought straw hats – Maria, the eldest, wears a hat adorned with cherries, Infanta has one with forget-me-nots perched on her head, while the youngest and also the book’s narrator – Katerina – has donned a hat with poppies “as red as fire.”
Gradually as the novel unfurls, the varied personas of the three sisters are revealed to us – the sexually bold Maria, the beautiful and distant Infanta, the imaginative and rebellious Katerina, also the narrator of the story.
Three Summers, then, is a lush, vivid coming-of-age story that coasts along at a slow, languid pace…it drenches the reader with a feeling of warmth and nostalgia despite moments of piercing darkness. With its rich evocation of summer and luscious descriptions of nature, the narration, in keeping with Katerina’s personality and penchant for telling stories, has a dreamy, filmic, fairytale-like vibe to it.
THE SUMMER BOOK by Tove Jansson (tr. Thomas Teal)
A lovely, beguiling novel that in twenty-two crystalline vignettes distills the essence of summer and captures the unshakeable bond between a 6-year old girl and her grandmother, two unusual but fascinating characters. Like the brilliance of cut diamonds, The Summer Book sparkles with wisdom and humour from every angle, and is life affirming in many ways.
A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY by J. L. Carr
Tom Birkin, a soldier in First World War and having suffered shell shock, arrives in Oxgodby in the summer of 1920 to uncover a medieval wall painting in the village church. This is a gorgeous novella of sheer perfection portraying themes of the transient nature of time, the fleeting moments of happiness, and the process of healing through the restorative power of art. It has everything – nostalgia, an art mystery, romance, and atmospheric descriptions of an idyllic village life.
THE ISLAND by Ana María Matute (tr. Laura Lonsdale)
Against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, The Island is a dark, brilliant, deeply atmospheric coming-of-age novel set in the island of Mallorca where passions and tensions simmer, ready to erupt like lava from a volcano.
Matia, our narrator, is a wild, rebellious girl recently expelled from her convent school for kicking the prioress. She is adrift – her mother is dead since she was a little girl, and she has vague memories of her father who is at the front fighting on the opposite side – with the Communists – a fact that distresses the grandmother. Dona Praxedes, her grandmother, is a domineering woman, who takes matters into her own hands ensuring that Matia is sent to live with her. The grandmother rules her lands with an iron fist, by reputation if not in person.
Matia has company though, if not always welcome. There’s her cousin Borja, a sly character and a petty thief, and his timid, vacant mother (Aunt Emilia to Matia) who is patiently waiting for her husband Alvaro to return from war. But cut off from the outside world, Matia and Borja are increasingly bored, fretful and biding their time, waiting for something the essence of which they can’t quite fathom.
It’s a very hypnotic, evocative novel where the languid heat of the summer and the vibrant kaleidoscope of colours lend a surreal, dreamlike quality to a book. Matute’s rendering of mood and atmosphere is superb – an air of menace and creeping dread pervades the island along with a sense of loss and deep lingering sadness.
That’s it for now. I hope to do more such themed posts going forward, a lovely reminder of some excellent books I’ve read in the past.
3 thoughts on “Favourite Books Set During Summer”
A lovely selection, many of which I have read and enjoyed! 😀
Thank you, Karen 🙂 Such wonderful reads all of them!
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