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.