Long Hot Hungarian Summer
review by Maryom
One day Beth's father comes on a surprise visit, bringing with him a parcel sent to her from Hungary. She knows who it will be from - the handwriting on it is that of her estranged mother's Hungarian artist partner, Zoltan - and at first she determines not to open it.
For seven years after her parents' separation, Beth made the long journey to Hungary for a week long summer holiday at their home, Villa Serena. At the time these weeks seemed idyllic -in comparison to her dull, plodding life at home with her quiet, almost silent father, Beth found Hungary to be hot, exotic and vibrant - but after they came to an abrupt end Beth has tried to block all memory of them.
Curiosity wins over her original decision - and inside the parcel she discovers The Book Of Summers, a scrapbook with an exquisitely painted cloth cover, compiled by Beth's estranged mother, Marika, filled with photographs, postcards and pressed flowers celebrating the holidays Beth spent with her in Hungary. Beth finds herself drawn back into her life there, rediscovering the joyful summers and the traumatic ending to them.
In essence The Book Of Summers is a coming of age story, a journey of self-discovery while facing up to hidden, unpleasant truths, one in which the heroine cannot build a future without coming to terms with the past. But what makes it stand out from so many similar tales is the way in which it is told.
The Book Of Summers brought the sights and smells of the Hungarian countryside to life for me. It's one of those novels that can transport you to a different time and place - I read it last week in the biggest freeze so far this winter and would swear I could feel the heat of the Hungarian summer as I read. It's such a beautiful evocation of hot, lazy summer days, of meadows disappearing into heat haze, hidden forest pools and not forgetting the wonderful Hungarian food - goulash, spicy sausages, juicy water melons, bullet-holed cheese.
I wondered slightly as I was reading, entranced as I was, quite where the plot was leading - whether it was solely a series of enchanting snap-shots. Then without warning, wham, came a lightning bolt of a plot twist - one that stopped me in my tracks and made me reassess the story so far.
I was told that this was a book that I would adore - and I do!
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - adult, literary fiction