Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: The Last Summer

The Last SummerAuthor: Judith Kinghorn
Publication Date: December 31, 2012
Publisher: NAL/Penguin USA

Clarissa is almost seventeen when the spell of her childhood is broken. It is 1914, the beginning of a blissful, golden summer - and the end of an era. Deyning Park is in its heyday, the large country house filled with the laughter and excitement of privileged youth preparing for a weekend party. When Clarissa meets Tom Cuthbert, home from university and staying with his mother, the housekeeper, she is dazzled. Tom is handsome and enigmatic; he is also an outsider. Ambitious, clever, his sights set on a career in law, Tom is an acute observer, and a man who knows what he wants. For now, that is Clarissa.

As Tom and Clarissa's friendship deepens, the wider landscape of political life around them is changing, and another story unfolds: they are not the only people in love. Soon the world - and all that they know - is rocked by a war that changes their lives forever.

“Our adolescent conversation was still devoid of any faltering uncertainty, and we didn’t stand on the brink, we ran along it, unperturbed by tremulous skies, sure of our footing and certain of sunshine, hungry for the next chapter in our own unwritten stories. For lifetimes – lifetimes we had only just begun to imagine – stretched out before us crisscrossing and fading into a distant horizon. There was still time, you see. And the future, all of our futures, lay ahead, glistening with promise, eternal with possibility.” – Paperback Copy pg. 3 & 4

“Men, she had often told me – usually during arithmetic, and with a rug over her knees – were brutes; they had simply not evolved from animals, she said.” – Paperback Copy pg. 6

“Mademoiselle says gentlemen who feel the need to boast almost always have unusually small cerveaux.”  - Paperback Copy pg. 8

“We knew no lack, experienced no want, and I knew no other way. I had never looked from the outside in; never thought about how we lived. Until that time: until Tom Cuthbert entered my life.” – Paperback Copy pg. 13

And I’ll wait for you, my darling. Even if it means waiting until I’m old and gray, I’ll wait for you. Because I love you with all my heart and everything I am. And nothing anyone can say shall ever alter that…So know I am yours, and will only ever be yours: heart, mind, lips and body, yours, always, Clarissa.” – Paperback Copy pg. 101

“One syllable, one syllable was all it took. He had been a moment in my life, a wonderful reckless moment, nothing more. Nothing more, I told myself out loud.” – Paperback Copy pg. 169

“‘A successful marriage is not about physical love, or passion. That type of love – however intoxicating – simply doesn’t endure. A successful marriage is founded upon a partnership; it is an alliance, an understanding. And it is about companionship and, sometimes, forgiveness and tolerance too…’” – Paperback Copy pg. 245

This novel happens to be the debut for Mrs. Judith Kinghorn and is told from the perspective of our heroine and main character, Clarissa Granville. The story takes place in the summer of 1914 and Clarissa is a teenager when she first lays eyes on Tom Cuthbert. It is made apparent from the start of the extravagant difference in the social standings of both Tom and Clarissa, but the emotions shared between the two are also just as apparent. Tom is below Clarissa’s social standing and readers learn right away that this will be a major problem in the story. Even though Tom studies at Oxford University, Clarissa’s family makes it quite clear that Tom is not good enough for her by any means.

The most invigorating part of this book was the beautiful prose in which it was written. I mean to say that the writing produced here by Kinghorn is very close to being what I would call melodic. Each description takes you deeper than the physical appearance, but instead creates a looking glass so that you may explore every crevice of every setting, character, or emotion. The etiquette and expectations upheld by the Granville family help set the stage for this a bit as well. Everything in the Granville household is expected to be prim and proper, just like Clarissa, so the prose fits the scenario quite well. The book is rather long but the writing takes you through much more quickly, like a swiftly flowing river.

Clarissa is at first viewed as na├»ve and innocent. She falls into her place as a respected woman of this century and does not question the duties and moral placed upon her by her rather pretentious family. At first I wanted to see Clarissa’s character challenged, and my wish was granted as soon as Tom Cuthbert stepped onto the scene. Clarissa transforms into quite the little feminist and begins to demand her rightful slice of independence. She thinks she deserves the equal right to decide her own fate and choose her own happiness. I will not spoil anymore of Clarissa’s story for you. It is, after all, hers to tell.

I will say that I love how Kinghorn displays the differences in class and gender when it comes to social status. Times were not always as they were now. This book is beautiful and the romance is essential to Clarissa’s story, but by no means does it take over the entire plot!

***Thank you to the publishers at NAL for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review***

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