Author: Judith Kinghorn
Provided Synopsis: 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 for ever.
Review: When the reader first meets Clarissa Granville she is a young and naive narrator that has been born into a life of privilege. All of her life she has lived in an idyllic setting in the English countryside, complete with a grand country house and a first-class upbringing. Blessed with beauty and money, her parents (specifically her mother) have plenty of plans for her that includes a stint in Paris for finishing, a coming-out season in London, and a proper marriage. But Clarissa is not bound to follow the rules. The moment she meets Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper’s son, the two of them are attracted to one another and fall in love. The Last Summer reveals their lives as they are forced apart due to WWI, social classes, and expectations.
Loss is a major theme of this book. The loss that Clarissa and those around her feel during the Great War are incredibly poignant and well written. I loved that the author presented the contrast of how loss is differentiated between men and women during the time. Men were considered to have lost more, since they were on the Western Front, but this novel reveals how much women lost as well as they were forced to sit home and wait for news without being able to do anything. Both genders had plenty of emotional scars from the war.
Throughout the story Clarissa and her narrative voice mature. She encounters plenty of heartache due to the circumstances of her life, and she begins to evolve in response. A world that had once been a daydream now has plenty of demons to overcome. I applauded her once she finally realized what she wanted and who she wanted to be. This novel was absorbing and put me through the full spectrum of emotions whilst I read. For a debut novel Judith Kinghorn has done a magnificent job. Her prose is descriptive and lush, and I look forward to reading more of her future work.