Book: The Last Summer
Author: Judith Kinghorn
I would love to share my review of one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read. ‘The Last Summer’ by Judith Kinghorn, an epic love story, set against the background of the outbreak of World War One.
Others have likened this novel to ‘Downton Abbey’, and I understand the comparison. However I do feel this novel portrays more than just the romance of the era, it also gives an in depth view of it’s rather less romantic issues such as the evils of war, the harshness of class divisions and utter tragedy of roads not travelled for if they had been happiness would have been achieved. Nonetheless, fans of the award winning show will adore this novel, and it echoes the works of such renowned authors such as Jane Austen.
The novel begins, following the story of the sixteen going on seventeen year-old Clarissa Granville, who’s naive and eager personality immediately draws the reader in. Clarissa is the daughter of some-what wealthy parents who purchase ‘Deyning Park’ from an impoverished earl. Clarissa lives, in a life of innocent bliss, with her parents and three brothers. As with any girl of that age in this era, the only thing of import weighing on their minds, is making one’s début into society and ensnaring a wealthy, well connected husband. However Clarissa’s sheltered existence is brought swiftly down to earth with the arrival of Deyning Park’s housekeeper’s son, Tom Cuthbert. Although attending university and patroned by a mysterious benefactor, and being a ‘guest’ of Clarissa’s brothers, the class distinction between Tom and the Granville’s is ever present. Tom is the quiet, gentle, dashing and brooding type of character that every reader loves, and it isn’t much of surprise to discover Clarissa’s feelings for him begin to deepen. He awakens part of her soul she never knew existed, and he is equally enthralled by her charming, innocent personality. She begins to realise the selfishness of her class and Tom is testament to her becoming an altogether better person, who the reader can truly relate to. There are a lot of heart achingly sweet moments, where Tom and Clarissa engage in secret rendezvous’, and again I will say these moments are reminiscent of Jane Austen.
However with happiness also comes despair in such novels such as these, and it isn’t long before Clarissa’s world begins to shatter around her. For the ‘Great War’ breaks out, stealing Clarissa’s brothers and Tom away. Tensions and miscommunication force Tom and Clarissa apart even further. Other forces such as Clarissa’s parents, also try to keep the two apart, fearing the social repercussions that may occur if Clarissa is left to follow her heart. As a result different emotions begin to emerge from this once beautiful romance. Jealousy, anguish and disappointment are emotions that are to the fore of this novel and the reader will find themselves so utterly frustrated that the two characters do not realise that they love each other and are too distracted by others to realise it. Sigh.
Nonetheless, Tom and Clarissa are bedazzled by each other, and are magnetised by an invisible force, that even when they have other commitments… (trying not to spoil the plot here), they cannot help giving in to their feelings for one another. One could argue that this is quite an unhealthy obsession, Tom is the Heathcliff to Clarissa’s Cathy, and how their love for another is almost damaging and tragic. Events occur which further causes Tom to distance himself. When he finally returns, it appears that he has become a different man, with a huge fortune in tow and finally garners the attention he so deserves. The events in this novel take place over a sixteen year period, so prepare yourselves for a long, but excellent love story.
I found this novel to be so enlightening. Before when reviewing another novel, I had mentioned how I couldn’t stand the indulgent, spoiled, little girls with rich daddies. However, Clarissa’s character literally changed my opinion of the aforementioned type of girl character. This is where the author’s talent lies, in my opinion, as she allows the reader to actually relate to someone you would never think you could relate to before. For example we see the world of pre-world war England through Clarissa’s eyes as she grows into adulthood and faces the harsh realities of her class, gender, love, and her inner battle to find her place in the world. The author elegantly portrays such personal upheaval with such magical descriptions that are so powerful and emotive, it is with such ease that the reader immediately identifies with the characters. Here is a passage from the novel that demonstrates the author’s talent:
“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 terms of other characters, Other readers who have read this novel, have expressed to me that they view Clarissa as quite the feminist, but I do not really think this is the case, or if it is, its more of a subdued part of her character. I think having come from the background she has, the social constraints were quite difficult and when finally giving the freedom to do what she wants, she literally throws herself into a lifestyle that does have a touch of scandal attached to it. Does that make her a feminist??? Not really sure myself, perhaps I shall leave that up to you avid readers to decided. On the topic of Tom Cuthbert, he is everything you could possibly want in a male lead. Courageous, gentle, dedicated, and terribly handsome are just some adjectives I would use to describe him. Yet I must admit that due to certain actions he takes in the second half of the novel, I was utterly baffled and disappointed in his ability to handle certain issues (really trying hard not to spoil for you lovely readers!). Also his treatment of other characters was a bit shocking at times. Despite this, the reader must remember that all that Tom Cuthbert does, is with Clarissa in mind, so try to ponder on that when you feel the need to throttle him, imaginatively of course. I loved the upstairs, downstairs aspects of the novel also, the staff of ‘Deyning Park’ all provide wonderfully to this lovely novel.
Overall, I love this novel most dearly and I beseech you all to pick up a copy. If you are an avid reader of historical fiction pertaining to the first world war, and also love a good forbidden romance story, then this is the book for you my dear friends. Judith Kinghorn is an amazing author, who would even make reciting the phone book sound amazing! Her magical descriptions of events, emotions and characters are simply divine. I understand some might not like this kind of novel, each to their own, but I genuinely loved it and would recommend it most sincerely.
As always please feel free to give your opinion, I love to get feedback.
The Busiest Bee 🙂