by Emylia Hall
I’ve said it before, but when it comes to discovering new books, always trust recommendations from friends! This, the debut novel from Emylia Hall, was a present from a friend whose literary opinions I really value.
I was drawn to The Book of Summers from initial glance and by the first few pages, it had me. At its heart, it has a fantastically intriguing premise. Beth Lowe’s ordinary life in Mile End is suddenly disrupted by an unexpected visit by her father. What he delivers – The Book of Summers – sweeps Beth into her hidden past, her secret childhood in Hungary with Marika, where she was ‘Erszi’. As she reminisces, she is forced to confront the memory of the seventh and final summer, and the effect that those events have had on her life…
There’s a beautiful, dreamlike quality to the descriptions of the book. In particular, the scenes at Villa Serena make lovely reading – pleasure somehow oozes from every pore of the descriptions. The gulf between this childhood and Beth and her father’s solitary existence in Devon is almost painful, and after each summer I yearned for the year to be up so that Erszi could visit again. The novel is chock full of such potent, poignant imagery. This is not a book that you will skim read; you will drink in each beautiful phrase and recall it. It’s only been two days but it’s already having that effect on me.
Having said, the dreamy feeling can also be somewhat unnerving: ‘The problem with a dream is that the only time you know you’re in one is when you’ve woken up. When everything is already over’. The ‘countdown’ nature of the narrative means we are constantly hurtling towards what we assume is some impending tragedy or disaster. The actual twist, when it comes, is something I never would have guessed, and it felt all the more wrenching for that.
To me it seemed that every element in the novel was expertly picked for its sound quality – the names ‘Marika’ and ‘Erzsi’ trip off the tongue and so wonderfully evoke the exotic Hungarian setting. If you’ve never been to Hungary (and I haven’t, but I will) I guarantee you will feel a strange affinity with the place after reading this.
This is getting enough deserved hype without needing my two-cents too. But I hope you’re persuaded that this is worth looking out for. It’s evocative, accomplished and just gorgeous. I loved it just as much as the first page, and my friend, promised me I would.