Right from picking up this book you know it’s going to be something special. The Book of Summers is Emylia Hall’s debut novel and is based loosely on her own memories of summers spent in Hungary. The cover is richly decorated with delicate, gorgeous gilded flowers which have just a little bit of the fairytale about them. And the story does indeed have fairytale qualities. The novel is told from the perspective of Beth, who has not heard from her mother Marika in over 14 years, Marika who left Beth and her dad for Hungary when Beth was just 9 years old.Both Beth and her father have been unable to let the past go, and have lived the intervening time as if in a dream where a wrong word could signify catastrophe.
But one day Marika’s partner, the artist ZoltÃ¡n Karoly, sends Beth a parcel weighted with memory. For inside is a hand-decorated photo album, Beth’s very own Book of Summers, with photographs both candid and posed, recording details of summers spent together in Hungary. When the book arrives, Beth initially rejects it because the memories of Marika are too painful, but in the end gives in to curiosity and peeks inside. She finds herself drawn into the stories recorded in those photos, she can remember every detail of the sights, sounds and smells of her Hungarian summers. For Marika’s book has a touch of the magical in it – in the way it enlivens the memory and Beth recalls so much that she had shut away from herself. Such as TamÃ¡s, whom she had to leave behind abruptly, Tamas whom she still cannot forget all these years later.
The story is beautifully, wistfully told. It is principally a tale of regret, told from Beth’s point of view as regret for words said and unsaid, particularly in her relationship with her father. But also there is a chance for change, a cracking in the faÃ§ade, and Beth finds herself open to possibility, awakened to the life she could resume and the connections she could restore.
Available now: Hachette RRP$29.99