Here are my favorites so far (and I’m hoping there will be many more):
The Last Summer
I enjoyed this atmospheric story, a coming-of-age tale that begins on an idyllic English country estate in the summer of 1914, before the outbreak of World War I.
In the first pages we meet naive, impressionable Clarissa, from a well-off family. Clarissa is about to turn 17 when she meets Tom Cuthbert, the son of their housekeeper. Tom is handsome and intelligent. Home from Oxford for the holidays, he joins the wealthy, young crowd that gathers at Clarissa’s home – but it is clear he is not one of them, and even more clear that he is not acceptable to Clarissa’s parents as a potential suitor.
As the summer progresses, the star-crossed lovers grow closer, until World War I intervenes and separates them. By war’s end, England’s privileged class emerges weakened, but rigid class prejudices and hierarchies remain – especially when it comes to expectations for Clarissa.
Clarissa and Tom take their separate paths in life as England and English society change rapidly. I loved the novel’s background of early 20th century England, of London during the war years, of the devastating losses of young men who die at the front and of those who returned damaged forever, and societal changes so difficult for the older generation to accept.
Some of the coincidences and chance encounters were too unlikely, but I still enjoyed this story about Clarissa and Tom set in the London of a century ago.
I’ve read and enjoyed other Trollope novels, but this one was a real find. Written almost 20 years ago, the novel follows the lives of two ‘blended families’, a term that would not yet have been coined.
The narrative switches deftly between the points of view of the divorced/abandoned/happily remarried parents and their children, underlining how the miscommunication – or perhaps willful miscommunication – contributes to the tensions of building a new family.
In the first blush of new love, or in the depths of despair at having been left, the so-called adults in this book completely overlook the inner turmoil their children are facing. I loved how it switched between the points of view of the adults and then their children, who feel so confused and insecure in their new realities. A beautiful book with many layers. Definitely my favorite Trollope novel.
I’ve always been a Sue Miller fan, and I admire her skill for delving deep into the psychology of her characters. The Arsonist, although not my favorite of her novels, is no exception.
In this novel set in a small town in New Hampshire, Frankie Rowley has returned home after years of carrying out aid work in eastern Africa. Her path crosses with Bud, the owner/editor of the local paper, just as he’s the busiest of his career following a series of arson cases that are breaking out in town, and damaging the homes of the wealthier, summer residents. Alongside this tension, Frankie’s mother is dealing with the slow decline of her husband as he begins to suffer from dementia.
What I loved about this book is the classic Sue Miller approach to delivering us deep within the inner lives of her characters and fully understanding what makes them tick, whether we like them or not. I also enjoyed the underlying tension of the book – the New England locals who are both dependent upon and resentful of the seasonal residents, and how the incidences of arson (bad pun alert) fuel these social tensions.
Sadly, I felt that Miller somewhat let this story line die, while I felt it should have been developed more. The ending also felt rushed and choppy, after the slowly unrolling pace of the rest of the story.
Even so, this was an engaging and enjoyable read, and I look forward to Miller’s next.
And you, readers? What are your favorite reads (so far) for 2016? Happy reading to all.