The Summer Before The War: Helen Simonson
I really enjoyed reading this book set in the village of Rye in Sussex. The characters felt real and interesting and the dialogue between them was entertaining, sparkling and witty. It was a lengthy book, but I wanted to keep on reading right until the end. One of those books where you can just feel that the author has researched the subject so well.
The atmosphere just prior to the First World War in the polite society of the upper classes was brought to life in a very evocative way. The romance between two of the leading characters that develops throughout the book, began with mutual respect, friendship and a meeting of minds.
The mood of the country in the early stages of the war where young men, including the sons of the rich, rushed to enlist into the services in a surge of patriotism and a yearning for an adventure, as they saw it, was perfectly captured.
The women of the grand houses, including titled ladies, sprang into action, formed committees for relief work, proudly displayed their sons in uniform at society gatherings, and made their homes available to be used as military hospitals and convalescent homes for the wounded. The young ladies handed out white feathers to young men not in uniform. Belgian refugees arrived in Rye to be welcomed and rehomed.
Then the real consequences of war, with the names of those on casualty lists published in newspapers, becomes apparent and made worse by the fact that for those who grieve, their sons are buried somewhere overseas, many without a proper resting place, lying where they fell and only identified on lists of those missing.
For fans of Downton Abbey, this is a much better written narrative of that turbulent time of change in the early part of the twentieth century.
The only niggle I have is the use of American spelling throughout, but this version (an ARC copy) was an uncorrected proof copy, so that might have been addressed.