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Review: The Perfect Summer, by Juliet Nicolson

Pages: 290
Original date of publication: 2006
My edition: 2006 (Grove Press)
Why I decided to read: Amazon recommendation
How I acquired my copy: borders, July 2010

The Perfect Summer chronicles the summer of 1911—one of the hottest summers of the 20th century in England. The coronation of George V took place in June 1911, and the summer was characterized by multiple strikes. It was one of the last few summers before WWI, one of the last summers of the Edwardian period, and a summer in which everything seemed idyllic.

The book is arranged chronologically, from May to September 1911, and tells the story from the point of view of many different people—from queens to choirboys. Because of this method of organizing the book, it sometimes seems a little disorganized; there’s no central theme to any of the chapters (which are divided into the months of summer) and as a result they seem a bit unfocused. The book covers a lot of ground, too, from political events to social goings-on and beyond. I did like how Nicolson focused on the stories of various movers and shakers of the summer, among them May of Teck, Virginia Stephen and Leonard Woolf, Winston Churchill, and the bestselling novelist Elinor Glyn.

The content itself is interesting, and I learned a lot about the social niceties of the period, but there didn’t seem to be a theory or theme to this book. Because the author has a personal attachment to the story (she’s the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson), she manages somehow to insert her ancestors’ names and ancestral home repeatedly into her narrative (despite the fact that Vita Sackville-West was only a teenager in the summer of 1911), so that was a bit jarring for me. I thought the idea behind the book was interesting, especially since it’s been exactly a hundred years since the events in the book took place. I just wish the author’s execution of it had been better!


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