The Book of Summers

The Book of Summers

by Emylia Hall

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781459230026
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 05/29/2012
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
File size: 442 KB

About 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.

Read an Excerpt



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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The Book of Summers 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
arlenadean on LibraryThing 23 days ago
Author: Emylia HallPublished By: Mira: Original EditionAge Recommend: AdultReviewed By: Arlena DeanRaven Rating: 4Blog Review For: Great Minds Think AloudReview:"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 makeyou 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 as adults with family relationships....then this read is for you.
BrokenTeepee on LibraryThing 23 days ago
This book is magical, sad, tragic and redemptive all wrapped up in a love story to Hungary. A country about which, I must admit, I know very little. As the tale begins we meet Beth Lowe, a somewhat constrained and shall I say it, boring, young English woman with a very poor relationship with her father. He is coming to visit and the reader can tell she is oh so hopeful for more between them. But he comes not to see her but to deliver a package from Hungary - a package full of memories Beth would rather not revisit.I fell into this book and could not put it down. The writing! The writing! It is magical - it drew me in and wouldn't let me go. I felt the sun. I was refreshed by a dip in a pool deep in the forest. I fell in love with a country I know nothing about. Such is the power of Ms. Hall's pen. As to the story - she had me raving at characters, crying at passages and rejoicing at conclusions that were still very uncertain. I can't say I agree with or understand the actions of her protagonist - it's a lot of anger to hold for a very long time - but I can't say that I didn't enjoy the journey.I'm keeping this one for it is one that deserves another read or two. I know that I'll find nuances I missed on my first read through that will enhance the story and it's one of those tales that will read better with foreknowledge of the ending. This will be one of my top ten for the year.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing 23 days ago
When I first started reading this book, I thought this was just another woman's fiction book. It is to a certain extent but it became so much more. Long lost package, summers spent in Hungary and a secret about while the summers came to an end and Erzebet became estranged from her mother. All this is revealed in a provocative twist and suddenly the book becomes much more than it was at the beginning. Loved the descriptions of Hungary and much of its culture, which I had not read about before, and the descriptive prose was beautiful. Although I did find the book to be a bit melancholy, in the end it seemed more about how things we often cannot control have lasting repercussions. ARC from NetGalley.
nicx27 on LibraryThing 23 days ago
The Book of Summers is a book that the main character, Beth Lowe, receives from her mother in Hungary. It is a book of pictures from each of the summers that Beth spent in Hungary as a teenager. We know that something has caused Beth to cease contact with her mother and the country of her mother's birth, and the book slowly unfolds to reveal the reason why. Each year's set of pictures triggers Beth into telling the reader her particular memories of that time.I expected to really like this book. It has a present day story and one that is taking place in the past. It has family memories, and intrigue. However, I did find it very difficult to get into and never really did get into it, to be honest. It's a very overly descriptive book, with very little dialogue, and that kind of read just doesn't suit me. It has a melancholy feel to it, but I can't say I felt any empathy with the main character.I can see that this may be a bit of a `Marmite' book, one which people either love (judging by other reviews) or just cannot take to, and I am in the latter camp. I can, however, appreciate that the writing is decent and Emylia Hall probably has a good career ahead of her.
VanessaCW on LibraryThing 23 days ago
I thought this was a thoughtful, gentle and compelling book. It is quite a slow read, so those who enjoy a fast paced story could be disappointed. It is a tale to ponder on and not one to rush. At times it reads like a memoir - the main character of Beth or Erzsi came across as quite real.I also thought it was very evocative of Hungary, where most of the story is set. I almost felt I was there and it made me want to visit - the imagery and descriptions are wonderful.It's a story about growing up, the paths we choose and the consequences of our actions. I think this phrase from the book sums it up: sometimes if you do not go backwards, you cannot move forwards.Beautifully and poetically written, it's an excellent debut novel. I look forward to reading further work by Emylia Hall.
ASmallHolding on LibraryThing 23 days ago
This book delivered on some levels, but not on others.Essentially a 'coming of age' novel, I was expecting more from the promise of ¿seven glorious childhood summers that Beth spent in rural Hungary¿. In truth, she spent short summer holidays there and as such the novel falls back into the realms of any young girl who spent her summer holidays in the same place each year and the notion that the 'grass is always greener' when you are on holiday.There is a twist, however, in that Beth has blocked these holidays out. Her memories are unlocked by the delivery of a Book and, through looking at that book with her, we discover why she has tried to forget those idyllic days. The skeleton in the family closet rattles its bones at us throughout the novel.I am left slightly disappointed that the effects of this skeleton are only explored in depth in terms of Beth's relationship with her Mother. Having said that, it is a book about Beth and her Mother when all said and done.However, I think my lack of empathy for Beth stems mainly from the way her relationship with her Father is portrayed. Summer Holidays in Hungary are obviously the mainstay of the novel, but I cannot help but remember that most of these years are spent with her father.The prose is beautiful, but it became too much for me in places and I got bored.Whilst there is much happiness in the pages of this book, my main impression was of deep sadness... but it was not Beth that I felt sorry for, it was her Father.In conclusion, it was a good read overall. Although what I took from it's pages may not be what was intended, it did engage me and I did take something from it.I would recommend this as a good holiday read ¿ the prose certainly lends itself to being read whilst soaking up some sun of your own.
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.