Reader's Comments
The Summer Before The War By Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson

PBR Book Review:

THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR by Helen Simonson is one the best book I've listened to in a while! I agree with the Washington Post when it says, " It's your cure to Downton Abby Withdrawl." I couldn't stop listening to this book. I felt transported to the town of Rye, England and became immersed in this enchanting story. It begins with Beatrice Nash, a young woman, hired to teach Latin at the local school. The appointment of a woman causes a bit of a stir in the community because women didn't have equal rights. The suffragette movement is an interesting thread throughout the story. I loved all the historical details including the formalities, restrictions, and chivalry! It's a wonderful love story but as the book progresses it takes on a more serious tone as the war approaches. There's a lot to discuss with this book. It's a fantastic summer read and would make an excellent Book Club choice.

Book Club Talking Points:

Talking Points: Several threads run through this love story, which will provide excellent topics for lively discussions. The suffragette movement along with social class and family honor are active components of the story and will give your Book Club a lot to debate!

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*Author Website:

*Other Books by Same Author: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

*Discussion Questions

1. Talk about the status of women's rights (or the lack of) during the setting of The Summer Before the War. What prejudices does Beatrice, as a woman, have to confront?

2. Comparisons of Simonson's book have been made to the television series Downton Abbey. What parallels do you see? Consider class and gender issues, as well as the effect of the war on the staid Edwardian sensibilities.

3. How would you describe Beatrice Nash? Why does Beatrice reject the idea of marriage?

4. Some of Simonson's dialogue is very funny. Find a few of the quips for fun...but also talk about the serious realities that underlie their surface humor. Consider, for example, this one about the arrival of Belgium refugees: "It is quite impossible to ask our ladies to take absolute peasants into their own houses, however charming their wooden clogs." Underneath its humor, what does it reveal about societal mores?

5. Talk about the incidents of cruelty, both on and off the battlefield. What might Simonson be hinting at when it comes to the cruelty of organized warfare vs. a "peaceful" village society engaged in rivalry for civic boards and pageants...or guns vs. sarcasm?

6. Describe the gruesome conditions and suffering in the battlefield trenches. How does the novel juxtapose that suffering with the naivete of the villagers back home?

7. Talk about how the rigid class attitudes were changed by the war. Hugh Grange, for instance, thinks that the "earthbound ruffians formed as indelible a part of England’s fabled backbone as any boys from Eton’s playing fields."

* Discussion questions provided by :

Book Summary
Random House (March 22, 2016) - Fiction - 496 pages
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master. When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing. But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.
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