Leaving Me Here On My Own: A review of The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

When Beth receives a letter telling of her mother, Marika’s, death, she also acquires a scrapbook of photos recording the seven glorious Hungarian summers of her childhood. The time has come to confront her past and the last summer that signalled the end of her relationship with Marika.

” ‘Oh, Erzsi,’ she said in a rush, ‘I don’t know what to say.’

And she didn’t need to say anything, because then she fell on me, kissing me until my cheeks stung, pulling me so that my arms bent at awkward angles. My knee pushed the gear stick and Marika’s elbow sounded the horn. I felt sure that with so much life inside it the car would power up of its own accord and blast wildly into the traffic, killing us both. I shut my eyes tight and surrendered to her grip. For this was love, of the desperate, thieving, glorious kind. Not only the suggestion of it, like the gently pecked kisses of my father, or the feel of his palm lightly on the crown of my head, but an avalanche of blinding, unstoppable, actual love. I let Marika sweep me up and carry me with her for as long as she wanted. “

This passage suggests the hope of a cheerful book. However, the upcoming doom of the story is known from the beginning. Despite the implied happiness of the summers of the title, the author never lets you forget the promise of the inevitable miserable conclusion. 

I read a review saying that the book lacks any kind of humour. This very accurate description means that there is no relief from the knowledge of the sad events to come, making it quite an unjoyous read. While not all books need to be joyous to be classed as a great reading experience, I found that the author could have made this so much more than it was by simply allowing us to be swayed from the protagonist’s self absorbed sense of woefulness now and then. 

There is no doubt that the book is well – even beautifully – written, and I am sure that many people would find it very satisfying. However, for me, it is just too woeful, and I need something more from a story. Although – I am pleased to say that there is one positive thing I got from it, and that is it made me want to travel to Hungary, the place of those notorious summers.

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall : not as cheerful as you’d expect