Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Last Summer: A Review

Note: I have tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, because I think quite a few of you will be interested in reading this book and I don’t want to give anything away!

A grand old English country estate.  A forbidden romance set against the backdrop of World War I.    The blurb for Judith Kinghorn’s The Last Summer intrigued me, and in all honesty, I was hoping to get a Downton Abbey fix.  But what I got was so much more.

Spanning roughly 16 years (1914-1930), The Last Summer is a beautifully written story about the young generation impacted by World War I.  Told through the eyes of Clarissa Granville, we see how the war crashes into her life and those around her, smashing every hope and dream in its path, causing inexplicable loss that sets all Clarissa thought she knew adrift.  But there is one thing that she always comes back to, one true thing that guides her: her love for Tom Cuthbert.

Clarissa meets Tom at her family’s country estate, Deyning.  Tom is the son of the housekeeper, and she is quickly drawn to his quiet intensity, despite their class difference.  The two make a connection that last summer before the First World War begins that cannot be broken, even with the many obstacles they face in the years to come.

I appreciated how the story didn’t stop with the war’s end, allowing the reader to see the long-lasting impact the conflict has on Clarissa and her generation.  Through her, we experience the pain, the loss, and the need to escape from it all.

Through the first-person narrative, the reader develops a very intimate relationship with Clarissa.  Every thought, every hope, every justification is laid out.  She hides nothing from us, but there is much she feels she must conceal from the other characters in the story.

We only see the other main characters through Clarissa’s eyes, but they are well-developed and all play a major role in Clarissa’s life and the decisions she makes.

As a writer, I have huge respect for what Judith Kinghorn was able to accomplish with this novel.  The story is well-crafted, the characters rich, the prose brilliant.  It will take up a permanent place on my bookshelf (yes, I still read real-life, feel-in-your-hands paper books).  If you have an interest in World War I and the period directly following it, societal change, or just a great love story, get thee to the bookstore and pick up a copy of The Last Summer.

Here’s a link to The Last Summer’s GoodReads page.

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Parade’s End

Parade's End

So, I know I’m a little late to the party (since it aired in February), but I had to write a post about the BBC/HBO miniseries Parade’s End, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, and Adelaide Clemens.  The five-part series is adapted from four books written by Ford Madox Ford between 1924 and 1928.  Ford served in the Welsh Regiment during World War I, and used his experience on the Front to bring the conflict to life in his books, which were eventually combined into one volume, entitled Parade’s End.

Tom Stoppard wrote the screenplay for this particular adaptation, and it received a lot of critical acclaim.  So I had high hopes when it finally arrived in my mailbox.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall

Christopher & Sylvia

Parade’s End tells the story of Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch), an intelligent British aristocrat who clings to the old code of moral conduct, even though the world around him is changing at a rapid pace.  The story opens in 1908, on his wedding day to flirtatious socialite Sylvia (Hall), who is two-months pregnant.  He’s not sure if the child is his, but determined to do the honorable thing, he marries her.  The two are complete opposites, both in temperament and the way they view the world.  Sylvia’s destructive actions are motivated by her need to get a reaction out of her stoic husband.  In one scene a frustrated Sylvia lobs a breakfast plate at Christopher’s head as he pencils in corrections to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and he barely flinches.  While Sylvia enters into affairs to try to get her husband to notice her, Christopher’s principles prevent him from consummating his love for the earnest, passionate young suffragette Valentine Wannop (Clemens).

When World War I erupts across Europe, Christopher resigns from his job as a government statistician after he is asked to manipulate the facts.  Honorable principles in tact, he joins the army to fight for the preservation of the old ways he holds dear.  But the chaos of war will cause him to question those beliefs.

Christopher & Valentine

Christopher & Valentine

Christopher Tietjens’s transformation, along with his tumultuous relationship with his wife and longing for the woman he will not allow himself to have made this series enthralling to watch.  There are some subplots that drag a bit (but are nonetheless necessary), and at times this story does move slowly.  But the performances by Cumberbatch and Hall more than make up for it.  And the plot had me wondering to the very end who Christopher would choose to spend his life with.

I also appreciated the series’ treatment of World War I, as it showed not only what was happening on the front lines, but also the inefficiency of the military as Christopher is placed in a post to outfit troops preparing for the trenches.

And despite the gravity of the content, there are actually some surprisingly laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout the series.  But I will say, though it takes place during the same time period, Downton Abbey this is not.  TIME’s James Poniewozik summed it up well when he wrote: “If Downton is a nostalgic champagne toast to the bygone Edwardian aristocracy, HBO’s five-hour miniseries is more of a cold, bitter drink of scotch at its wake.”

Christopher

With great performances, wonderful cast chemistry, and beautiful cinematography, Parade’s End is a fantastic period piece I highly recommend.

Here’s the trailer (I honestly think I could listen to Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice all day…not that it influenced my review or anything): 

 

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Downton Abbey: Thoughts about Season 4

season 4 cast image

Warning: There are a few spoilers below for Downton Abbey seasons 1-3.

While the fourth season of Downton Abbey airs in the UK, we in the US must sit around twiddling our thumbs until January, attempting to avoid spoilers (well, some of us, anyway).  So far I’ve been successful, but I had a near miss this morning when Twitter started to discuss last week’s episode (I closed the window just in time).  No doubt I’ll eventually run into something, or my willpower will give out.  We’ll see which one comes first.

But until then, I’d like to share a little bit about what I hope to see (and what I’m concerned about) regarding season 4.

Here’s the trailer, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet:

Kissing, tears, dancing, and Dowager Countess wisdom–all the staples of the show are there.  There was a lot of positive buzz around the first episode, and it appears this season is going to focus on Lady Mary climbing out of her grief.  So here’s the big question for Downton Abbey: is there life after Dan/Matthew?

Lady Mary

And that leads me to one of the things I am really looking forward to this season.  Mary is one of the most dynamic characters on the show.  I want to see how she will move forward after the loss of Matthew, who was always such a huge part of her story.  I know Michelle Dockery will do a fantastic job, I just hope Julian Fellowes doesn’t do one of his classic “Let’s talk about this for one episode, and then bounce back and pretend like it never happened” moves.

Several new characters are coming on board this season who are being labeled as “Lady Mary’s suitors” and I just wonder if they can live up to the Matthew/Mary dynamic.  And how Mary will feel about them after the loss of her beloved husband.  And I can’t help but feel concerned for whoever she might choose, given the fate of all of her former love interests (Note: I still find it suspicious Richard Carlisle is never heard from again, and if any story about Mr. Pamuk made it in the papers, we certainly never heard about it…).

I truly loved Matthew and Mary together, but I do agree that “happily ever after” doesn’t drum up much drama, which leads me to…

season 4 anna and bates

What might be in store for Anna and Bates?  At the end of season 3 they were finally together, finally happy.  And given Mr. Fellowes’s philosophy on happy couples, I can only imagine what he has in store for them.  But judging from the trailer, it will involve some tears.  One guess is that Bates may not be as innocent as we think he is, or he may do something that shakes Anna’s steadfast faith in him.  Because otherwise those two are rock solid (unless Anna becomes pregnant, in which case she’s doomed, because that never marks a happy occasion at Downton).  Dare I say it?  I’d actually like to see a little shake up in their relationship this season, as long as it’s believable (again, I’m counting on you, Julian!).

branson

What about the other household member who lost a spouse last season?  I feel like Branson might be ready to move on, more so than Mary.  Maybe that’s because his entire relationship with Sybil revolved around her visiting him in the garage a few times, a botched elopement, and then some time in Ireland that we never saw.  Don’t get me wrong, their relationship was sweet and all, but they’re no Matthew & Mary.  But Branson himself is becoming a very intriguing character, caught between upstairs and down, unsure of what his social position is.  And now that one of his main allies is gone (Matthew), how will his relationship with the Crawleys fare?  Maybe Mary will step in to fill the gap left by her husband.

edith

I’m on the fence about what Edith’s story might be like this season, and whether or not I’m looking forward to it.  Sure, I want to see Edith come into her own at long last, and she deserves some happiness.  But I hope she doesn’t become some sort of walking cliche for the “working, independent girl” of the 1920s.  And speaking of cliches…

lily-james-as-lady-rose

This is the girl I’m really worried about.  Yes, Downton needs some new, young blood walking its halls.  But Rose got on my nerves in season 3, and I’m worried they’ll load her up with “flapper girl” cliches and make her a walking representation of a new decade.  But maybe I can forgive that if they give her character a little more substance.

daisy

I don’t even have any guesses as to what will happen downstairs this season.  From the trailer, it looks like we’ll have more love triangles going on, and some new faces.  What will it be like without O’Brien?  And who will replace her?  What evil business will Thomas get into, and who will be his new partner in crime?  His new buddy Jimmy, perhaps?  And will Daisy ever get her life sorted out?  Here’s hoping she doesn’t stalk around the kitchen with a perpetual scowl on her face this season.

What else?  I’m sure Robert will still walk around with his chest puffed up, spouting out bad advice, and Cora will quietly stand by his side.  I’m sure there’s some great Dowager quips to look forward to, and I’m excited to see Maggie Smith paired up with Harriet Walter (who played Fanny in the 1995 adaptation of Sense & Sensibility).  Let the sparring begin!

What are you looking forward to most about season 4 of Downton Abbey?  What are you most concerned about?  And are you trying to avoid spoilers, or do you feel they don’t impact your viewing enjoyment?

And as a reward for getting all the way through my rambling thoughts about Downton, click here to see the PBS preview of the first episode of season 4.

Photos copyright PBS and ITV.

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