The Book of Summers

The Book of Summers

4.0 7
by Emylia Hall

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For nine-year-old Beth Lowe, it should have been a magical summer—sun-kissed days lounging in rickety deck chairs, nights gathered around the fire. But what begins as an innocent vacation to Hungary ends with the devastating separation of her parents. Beth and her father return home alone, leaving her mother, Marika, behind.

Over the next seven…  See more details below


For nine-year-old Beth Lowe, it should have been a magical summer—sun-kissed days lounging in rickety deck chairs, nights gathered around the fire. But what begins as an innocent vacation to Hungary ends with the devastating separation of her parents. Beth and her father return home alone, leaving her mother, Marika, behind.

Over the next seven summers, Beth walks a tightrope between worlds, fleeing her quiet home and distant father to bask in the intoxicating Hungarian countryside with Marika. It is during these enthralling summers that Beth comes to life and learns to love. But at sixteen, she uncovers a life-shattering secret, bringing her sacred summers with Marika abruptly to an end.

Now, years later, Beth receives a package containing a scrapbook, a haunting record of a time long forgotten. Suddenly, she is swept back to the world she left behind, forced to confront the betrayal that destroyed her—and to search her heart for forgiveness.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hall’s lovely and haunting debut novel follows Beth Lowe, a young Englishwoman, as she recalls languid summers spent in Hungary with her mother, Marika, and the betrayal that cast every brilliant season into shadow. After a family trip to Hungary in 1990 when Beth was nine, her mother suddenly announced her intention to stay, rending the family across loyalties and country lines. Each year after the split, Beth spent summers with Marika, until a secret comes to light that impels Beth to turn her back on Hungary and her mother. Years later, Beth’s estranged father arrives with a letter explaining that Marika is dead and has left Beth a scrapbook, a heartrending record of the summers Beth spent with Marika and Tamás, Beth’s adolescent amour. Confronted with the evidence of former joys, Beth must decide whether to embrace the past in light of pain, or forever cast it aside. Each character feels authentic, and Hall does a superb job of balancing their stories. Set against the lush Hungarian countryside, one of “forest pool” and “sad poetry,” Beth’s bittersweet story will entrance readers. Agent: Rowan Lawton, PFD (UK). (June)
From the Publisher
"Elegantly written and intensely intimate. A moving, poetic debut." -Marisa de los Santos, bestselling author of Love Walked In

"So tender and lovely. This is a novel I will keep on my bookshelf forever." -Rebecca Rasmussen, author of The Bird Sisters

"In her thoroughly enchanting debut, Hall casts a spell with this coming-of-age tale that feels... ‘ like magic caught and held.'"

"A poignant tale of a daughter strung between two parents and of the kind of silence and secrets that destroy families."
-Kirkus Review

"Hall's lovely and haunting debut...will entrance readers."
-Publisher's Weekly

"An addictive read and an amazing debut."
– Cosmopolitan magazine, UK

"Fantastically evocative and sun-drenched with a twist."
-Stylist magazine, UK

Kirkus Reviews
A young woman confronts her magical, tragic past when she receives a scrapbook of the summers spent with her estranged mother. Despite working in the London art world, Beth Lowe lives a reserved life. She sees her father (a mere shadow of a man) on occasion, but hasn't spoken to her mother in 15 years. Then a package arrives, a handmade scrapbook marked The Book of Summers. Tucked inside is a note from her mother's longtime lover Zoltán, informing Beth that her mother has died. She grabs the album and heads to the park to recall memories she banished as a teenager. Her quiet English father and wild Hungarian mother seemed an odd pair, but 9-year-old Erzsi (the Hungarian of Elizabeth) is a happy child excited about the family vacation to Hungary, the first time Marika has been back since she escaped as a girl. But on vacation, the incomprehensible happens: Marika decides to stay and sends David and little Erzsi back home to England. Her mother's abandonment is almost too much to take, and Erzsi pines for letters and phone calls as her home life with her father (tea and detective shows) becomes unbearably gray. But then summer comes, and Erzsi is allowed to visit her mother. Marika and artist Zoltán live in a country house dominated by art and laughter and nature--a bohemian counterpart to the lonesome domesticity of Erzsi's English life. Down the road lives Tamás, a boy Erzsi's age, who shows her the pool in the forest, a touchstone for her subsequent stays. Every year she returns to Marika and their Hungarian summers and falls in love anew. Hall nicely captures a girl's adolescence, as Erzsi waits all year to bloom under the Hungarian sun, under her mother's care. At 16 Erzsi begs her mother to let her stay in Hungary. It is then that Marika tells her the truth: It's a heartbreaking rewriting of history. A poignant tale of a daughter strung between two parents and of the kind of silence and secrets that destroy families.

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Friday morning began as English summer mornings often do, with a shy but rising sun and wisps of cloud that were blown away by breakfast. My father was visiting, so I should have known it was never going to be an ordinary day, despite its early promise. It was the first time that he was seeing my London home for himself, and I was no newcomer to the city. I was seventeen when I decided on art college, and with the utter resolution that it had to be London. I wanted to lose myself, and it seemed just the place in which to be lost. I can remember the day I left home twelve years ago, my father standing by the car in the train-station parking lot, one gnarled hand raised in farewell, the other already feeling in his pocket for his keys. Then the put-put of the exhaust as he passed me at the station entrance, how he didn't see me that time, for he was hunched over the steering wheel like someone who was already late. I watched him go, the only family I had.

Family. A word that has always sat so uneasily with me. For other people it may mean rambling dinners with elbows on tables and old jokes kneaded and pulled like baking dough. Or dotty aunts and long-suffering uncles, awkwardly shaped shift dresses and craggy mustaches, the hard press of a well-meant hug. Or just a house on a street. Handprints pushed into soft cement. The knotted, fraying ropes of an old swing on an apple bough. But for me? None of that. It's a word that undoes me. Like the snagging of a thread on a sweater that runs, unraveling quickly, into the cup of your hands.

Since college I've lived on both sides of the river, in boxy flats and sprawling town houses. These days, my home is a neat Victorian terrace in Mile End, with a straggle of garden and a displaced gnome. My roommate, Lily, sings Frank Sinatra in the bath and has a jet-black bob, shiny like treacle. Our street is in the shadow of a clutch of tower buildings, and there's a long-abandoned Fiat three doors up, its back window cracked like a skating pond. I once saw a cat stretched out on the pavement, black and white and dead all over, an image I've never quite cleared from my head. Another time there was a flock of pigeons pecking at a roast-chicken carcass as I stepped out of my front door. I hurried past pretending I hadn't seen, like a twitchy citizen turning a blind eye to a crime. But just five minutes on my bicycle and I can be stretched out in Victoria Park, on a raft of newspapers and books. I go to a cafe where if the sun's beaming the owner gives me a free cup of coffee and I sit beside her at a rickety table as she smokes cheap cigarettes in her blue apron. All in all I feel settled here. It's a place where I feel I can welcome my father, without more complicated feelings budging their way in.

He was always older than the other fathers, and he made me giggle when I was small, saying he had been born ancient, with glasses sliding down his nose in his crib, knees already wrinkled. When other dads shouted and laughed, wore Levi's jeans and made makeshift waterslides on summer days, my father was in his study, shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow, lost in books. I would slip away and seek him out, guided by the soft closing of a door or the creak of a stair. He'd touch a finger to my cheek and call me his Little Betty. I'd cling to the ridges of his corduroys.

At breakfast times I used to spread marmalade on his toast and present it to him, flushed with care. He opened the new cereal boxes, wrestling with the plastic inner, shaking cornflakes into my bowl, stealing one for himself. He ironed my school dresses on a Sunday evening and hung them carefully on rose-patterned hangers, with their backs still creased. And sometimes I would come home and find an offering on the kitchen table, always in the same bottom corner. A storybook. A newly ruled notepad. A bouquet of three, sharp-pointed lead pencils. We would make tea and read nonsense poetry together, me going to bed dreaming of Quangle Wangles and a beautiful pea-green boat. We'd gotten along famously, with all the appearance of happiness.

Nowadays, we have new terms. Simply this: there are some things we talk about, and some things we don't. As long as the boundaries are observed, all is well. It makes what could be a complicated relationship into a very simple one. This understanding of ours didn't evolve gently over time; instead, it began with rushed descent, hurried by splashed tears and spilled promises, when I was sixteen years old. Ever since, we've been quietly complicit. And we get along just fine.

He's never been the sort to just pop in to London on a whim. Our infrequent visits are planned well in advance and I always go to see him in Devon. I'm not built for London, Beth, he's always said, and I've found it a relief that he's not one of those enthusiastic parents who is forever making suggestions and proposing plans. Lily's mother permanently scours the paper for exhibitions and new plays, looking for excuses to come and visit. She comes every couple of months and Lily turns into a tourist then. The two of them tumble through the door with crammed shopping bags. They catch taxis and go to the ballet. They eat at talked-about restaurants and sometimes invite me to join them for dessert. Lily's mother also attacks our domestic space with relish. She scrubs our sink so it looks like silver, and replaces our gnawed toothbrushes with pert bristled ones. She buys us giant packs of toilet-paper rolls and cans of soup, as though we were remote hill folk that might one day be snowed in. I observe such events with interest. I wonder what it would be like to have the lives of your parents so entangled with your own. Lily's mother's embraces extend to me, as well, but somehow her inclusive acts make me feel lonelier than I ever did before. Before I realized I needed a new toothbrush, or a slice of cheesecake from a fancy restaurant.

So it came as a surprise when my father telephoned three days ago to say that he was coming to see me this very weekend. Would I be around on Friday? Would I be free? he'd asked. This was new territory, and he entered it with a sideways glance and a fretful edge. As chance would have it, I had the day off. I work in a gallery and so I often have to do weekends, but that week I was gifted a rare Friday and Saturday of freedom. I'd had visions of a lazy breakfast at the pavilion in the park, a bicycle ride along the canal path, an afternoon in a sunny beer garden with friends who never worked weekends, but still celebrated them no less rampantly. Of course I'm free, Dad, I'd said, though, affecting an easy tone. Come anytime. I'd offered to meet his train at Paddington and he'd laughed vigorously, saying that he wasn't decrepit yet. I stole in and asked him then, Is everything okay? And he said, Of course it is. Then he added, I just want to see you. And it sounded simple enough at the time—unexpected, but just about believable. After I'd hung up the phone, I couldn't help feeling a queer mix of elation and worry. I decided to temper both through avoidance. I lost myself in recipe books. Instead of spending the next three days imagining all the possible scenarios that might have provoked his visit, I baked, I cooked and I dusted, feeling more daughterly than I had in a long time.

An impromptu spirit was clearly in the air, for Lily announced she was going sailing for the weekend with her new boyfriend, Sam. I pictured her windblown and salty, laughing at the breeze. I was disappointed that she wouldn't be at home. My father would have enjoyed meeting her, and I'd have appreciated the way she'd have taken the conversation and steered it along in an effortless way.

Will that chap Jonathan be with you? he'd asked on the telephone, and I'd had to remind him that Johnny and I had broken up six months ago. He easily forgot things like that, and for my part I downplayed them, if I played them at all. Johnny had taught geography and had a disheveled beard and laughing eyes. We spent nearly two years together, and in that time I'm not sure I ever got to describe myself as his girlfriend, something I somehow never minded. One day he told me he was leaving to travel South America and asked me if I wanted to go with him. I thought about it as he talked of crashing waterfalls and jungles so deep and thick that they were black as night by day. But in the end I turned him down more easily than I'd thought was possible. We made love that night for the last time, Johnny collapsing onto my chest afterward, me closing my eyes and folding an arm about him, as if he were the one that needed comforting. As if I was the one leaving. And on the last morning, he took my chin between his finger and thumb and looked into my eyes. If only you'd let me really know you, he said. Then, with more assurance, I think I got closer than anyone, Beth. I think I knew you better than you think. I'd closed my eyes, and when I opened them again I could see that I wasn't to be his puzzle anymore. He was as good as gone.

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Meet the Author

Emylia Hall’s short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, and she was dubbed by Elle magazine (UK) as one of 2012’s three most anticipated debut novelists. She lives in the UK with her husband, who is also an author. The Book of Summers is Emylia’s first novel and is inspired by her childhood memories of vacations spent in rural Hungary.

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The Book of Summers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I fell in love with Swiss Affair and this was it's own unique treat to read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good read. You felt yourself there. There are so little books that take place in Hungary, so this was a delightful change. You can learn much about Hungarian culture. Plus there is a surprise at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this only if you like long rambling sections that say nothing nor add anything to the plot. This is one of those books dependent on prose and just a thin story. It could have been told in a fraction of the space.
NYbooklover More than 1 year ago
This is definitely at the top of my list for best book I've read in last decade, and I read a LOT !! Characters are so well- developed; plot is SO original and unique which was SO refreshing in and of itself! It takes place in England and in Hungary, which I loved as I learned so much about Hungary and its people. It is a precious, beautiful and poignant story beautifully told. I give it 5 stars, and would give it more if possible!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
arlenadean More than 1 year ago
"The Book of Summers" by Emylia Hall was indeed a wonderful book of Beth/Erszi trying to understand her past....her mothers family history...due to a unexpected parcel from Hungary. Now this is a very long descriptive read so be ready for the long read, however, if you can stay with this story line you will not be disappointed....going from present to past times over the countries..(Hungary, Devon, London). This author really makes you feel the places you are in...especially in Hungary. Beth(Erzsi)Lowe is now living in Victoria Park, London and her father comes to visit and gives her a parcel (from her recently deceased mother)... that he had received at his home in Devon and this cause quite a stir because nothing was to be received from Hungary. Now why was that? However, Beth goes and opens the parcel discovering that it is "The Book of Summers" which was a scrapbook of seven past summers she had spent in Hungary with her mother. Now... Beth is remembering those summers and what had happen even the last one she had spent there...For this book will slowly reveal just what happened that Beth had forgotten her "7 summers in Hungary" and in the end it all come clear to the reader. Just how could a Mother let go of her child and put a country first....however, I was able to understand after the read of the outcome. I really liked the way this author didn't let the cat out of the bag until almost the end of this wonderful story. If you can hang on you will find out what had caused this rift between Beth and her father. By going through this scrapbook will Beth be able to look at her life especially her teenage years differently and even understand why her family had done what was done? ...summer spent in Hungary and the secret why the summers stopped and Beth became estranged from her mother...with many twist and turns... soon letting us understand just what had happen. Now this is the part where I will say you must pick up this novel and read to find out just what has gone on. I really enjoyed the characters... Beth(Erzsi), Marika( Mother), David(Dad), Aunt Jessica, Zoltan, Angelika, Balint, Tamas and Justin ...all making this a well written story. "The Book of Summers" was a good read and well written..... definitely a novel to make you think. I would recommend this book for anyone who wants a good fiction read of dreams of the teenager, problems and choices that we have made as adults with family our relationships....then this read is for you.