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Review of 'The Book of Summers' by Emylia Hall

I selected this book for a number of reasons. My ex father in law was Hungarian, and I always enjoyed his tales of the old country… I’ve always had somewhat of a fascination with Eastern European culture… and I loved the idea of a life scrapbook, as yet unseen by the subject of each and every page.

I was expecting to enjoy this book as one might enjoy a literary novel of some repute. Perhaps feeling some sense of duty or achievement for having slogged through the tome. But it wasn’t like that in the slightest.

The story is about a woman, Beth Lowe, who has been brought up in Southern England, but who, once her parents split up, spends parts of her childhood summers in Hungary with her mum. Back in those days the young girl is known as Erzsi and the romance of the Hungarian name and family is definitely not lost on her.

After completing the book’s very brief first chapter I thought, hmmm that’s nice and poetic sounding, but let’s get to the story now. But what was wonderful to me was that when the story emerged (simple though it was) the poetry of the writing didn’t abate. It took me right back to reading romance novels when I was in my mid-teens. In those days they were Mills and Boon and Harlequin books passed down from my mum. I haven’t read romance for over thirty years, but have always shamelessly enjoyed ‘easy reads’ because they are simply that. I didn’t have (and still don’t have) the leisure time to spend hour after hour consulting reference books and dictionaries in order to keep up with some literary opus. I like a book to entertain.

And in “The Book of Summers” I was not disappointed. It did entertain me. I cannot say that I was transfixed from beginning to end, but I definitely enjoyed the book’s small events, and descriptions of the summers during which not much happens (and even less happens for the rest of the year).

In the end, I was so attuned to the drifting along of days that I was shocked that a ‘twist’ occurred: the twist being that the ‘family’ Erzsi thought she had in Hungary, weren’t actually biological family at all. This leads to her returning home to her father, and to a ceasing of relationships with the Hungarians.

I can completely understand why a reader might find the book largely uneventful and tedious, covering as it does, little more than everyday life and a peep inside the heads of a few interesting characters, but this is precisely why I liked it. It is not the most worthy book I’ve ever read, nor the most entertaining, informative or joyful, but it did have a certain something I liked, and I am not ashamed to admit that what I liked was the flowery writing and the air of romance and the sense of all things being possible. The sense of being a sentimental and idealistic teenager shone through, and I enjoyed it for that!

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