Rich settings, romantic intrigue, and engaging characters will draw readers into this dramatic epic of estate owners and slavery in 19th-century colonial Barbados from Willig (The English Wife). Emily Dawson has arrived in Barbados from England, and she surprises her new neighbor Dr. Nathaniel Braithright, the nephew of a wealthy freedman, by proclaiming her inheritance of the nearby derelict sugar plantation called Peverills. The story then reaches back to 1812, when connections between the plantation families and their slaves are gradually revealed through the relationships of landowners such as Mary Anne Beckles, as well as Mary Anne’s maid Jenny. Mary Anne marries and becomes pregnant, and soon Jenny is expecting as well, but lineages are questioned and, in Jenny’s case, shrouded with mystery. The narrative alternates between the period of 1812–1816 and 1854: in the earlier age, ardent battles for love and land shape the future, while in 1854, Emily struggles to rebuild and run a plantation, but she’s filled with the same uncertainty that underlies her attempts to understand hidden details of her family line. The physical and emotional passions of the characters keep the stakes high and the pages turning, making this a powerful exploration of slavery and reformation on Barbados. (June)
Lauren Willig’s The Summer Country is a sumptuous read, evoking M.M. Kaye’s lush and sweeping tales of nineteenth century colonial life. I read The Summer Country slowly—doling out exquisite chapters one at a time—because there are too few books written today that harken back to that delicious way of storytelling that doesn’t rush things just to keep up with modern trends. I would count this one as a new classic and encourage every reader who cares about quality writing to quickly add this one to their list of to-be-favorites.
In this evocative family saga, The Summer Country, Willig sweeps the reader away to the heartbreak of colonial Barbados, where love across the color line is forbidden, and the repercussions of slavery’s cruelty echoes through the generations. Bold and beautifully told, with unexpected twists, the puzzle pieces fit together with a satisfying click. Brava!
I’ve been waiting for a book like this to come along: an epic family saga simmering with secrets, gorgeously told. Lauren Willig brings her exotic island setting to life with such exquisite sensory detail I lost myself completely. It’s a story to be savored, a book you will keep on your shelf to read again and again. The Summer Country is a masterpiece.
Powerful, emotional, beautiful, and historically fascinating, The Summer Country is a simply breathtaking saga. This is the kind of book you fall into, that absorbs you for the entire time you are reading it and that after, haunts you.... long after.
So steeped in Caribbean culture, my hands were sweating while turning the pages. Lauren Willig has ventured to story territory near and dear to my heart. The Summer Country is a daring, meticulously researched narrative of complicated love. A hot summer read for historical fiction fans!
Tense, atmospheric, and gorgeously written, The Summer Country is a novel to savor!
So steeped in Caribbean culture, my hands were sweating while turning the pages. Lauren Willig has ventured to story territory near and dear to my heart. The Summer Country is a daring, meticulously researched narrative of complicated love. A hot summer read for historical fiction fans!”
A tale of two sugar plantations on Barbados before and after the abolition of slavery.
In 1854, Emily Dawson and her cousin Adam arrive on the island of Barbados in the British West Indies, he to secure contracts for the family shipping company and she to take possession of Peverills, the plantation she unexpectedly inherited from their late grandfather, Jonathan Fenty. Fenty, once the bookkeeper at Peverills, had been a "Redleg"—the Barbadian term for poor whites—but then he had escaped to England and made his fortune. On arriving in Barbados, Emily and Adam meet their grandfather's wealthy business associate, Mr. Turner (a former slave), and his nephew, Nathanial Braithwaite, a medical doctor, who will figure heavily in Emily's future. During an uprising of enslaved people that led to emancipation in 1816, Peverills was burned down and has laid in ruins ever since. Beckles, the neighboring plantation, is run by the imperious Mrs. Davenant with the assistance of her grandson, George. The action shifts back and forth between 1812-1816 and 1854 as the tangled histories of the two plantations painstakingly emerge. In 1812, Charles Davenant, the older son lately returned from England, has inherited Peverills, much to the chagrin of his younger brother, Robert. Charles tries to mollify Robert by encouraging him to court Mary Anne, heiress to Beckles. Charles' heart belongs to Mary Anne's enslaved maid, Jenny, the mixed-race daughter of Mary Anne's uncle. Jenny is torn between loving Charles and her struggle for freedom. Complications, rivalries, and plot points ensue, leading up to mysteries surrounding Emily's lineage. Willig's (The English Wife, 2018, etc.) decision to alternate chapters between the two time periods, rather than adopt a more straightforward chronology, means that information about who's who is withheld in a way that slackens the book's momentum. Characters of all races are fully fleshed out as Willig confronts the island's complex racial dynamics, in particular the sexual exploitation of enslaved women and its consequences.
A deep dive into Caribbean history which requires, and ultimately rewards, close reading.
Willig's latest historical stand-alone ("Pink Carnation" series; The English Wife) is set amidst the lush sugarcane plantations of 19th-century Barbados, with two parallel story lines. In 1854, Emily Dawson discovers she has inherited the neglected Peverills estate from her beloved grandfather. She's willing to give up her life in England, even though she doesn't have a clue what she's getting into. A helpful neighbor knows more than she is saying about what really happened at Peverills nearly 40 years ago. Emily's investigation is put on hold, however, after cholera hits town. It's all she can do to try to help those stricken by the disease without succumbing herself. Meanwhile, in 1814, Charles Davenant is not so subtly encouraged to marry the Beckles heiress, but he's far more interested in her enslaved maid Jenny. Naturally, complications ensue that echo through the years. Willig's exceptional research into the period and her skill at drawing characters shines on every page. She doesn't shy away from the realities of slavery, and carefully depicts both the oppressed and the oppressor. VERDICT Not always a comfortable read, but a compelling one, this book is appropriate for readers who like complex family dramas in exotic locations. [See Prepub Alert, 12/17/18.]—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.