Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Last Summer - Judith Kinghorn

'I watched you, and I'd never seen anything or anyone as beautiful.'

This novel takes us into the world of Clarissa Granville, a young woman approaching her seventeenth birthday, living a happy and privileged existence with her family at their wonderful country house, Deyning Park. The house itself, and the landscape around Deyning are vividly described, the lush gardens, the expansive grounds, the lake. We meet Clarissa at the start of the summer of 1914, enjoying lovely summer days with her three brothers and the rest of her family and friends. She is introduced to handsome, clever Tom Cuthbert, who is the son of the housekeeper at Deyning. He is recently returned from University, and is back staying with his mother. Tom is invited to a party at the main house and there Clarissa meets and is spellbound by him, and he by her. Their time together during that summer ignites a love and burning need for each other that will be with them forever. Then the world begins to change, and the impending war will alter all their lives permanently. 

The author has crafted a mesmerizing love story, and totally captured a time and an age now gone forever. And she has portrayed in period detail the times as they were, and then how the war changed everything, shattered lives, destroyed families, and changed society. The generation who lost so many brothers, cousins, friends; irreplacable. There is such deep sadness and loss.

'The intoxication of youth, snuffed out, extinguished in a matter of months, left in its place only a numbing sobriety. Far too many young souls had alread been sacrificed, too many lives shattered. And to those of us left standing, impotent, on the sideline, with splintered hearts and broken dreams, light had all but vanished from our lives.' 

Judith Kinghorn captures the way the world has changed for Clarissa's mother, accustomed to the fineries of life at Deyning, then experiencing how life alters and she is forced to adapt to new circumstances. For others, the world offers new opportunities.

The luxurious life and situation Clarissa is born into dictates the route her life is expected to take. There is little chance for her to take any decisions of her own. 'None of us, no matter our situation or circumstances, could pick up the pieces of life as it had once been, before the war. We had all been changed, and our lives as we'd known them had gone, and gone for ever.'

But in the years after the War, things begin to change. It seems it may be possible, as society changes and the constraints of tradition and history are being broken, for a woman such as her to shed her background and become independent, to work, to live freely; something she could never have contemplated before: 'Had I ever been free? I'd never, not once, had any say in my life, in my destiny. It had all been decided long ago, by my parents, and then by Mama...I'd always been owned, but never by me.'

There is another love story hidden within the pages, with short extracts from letters scattered throughout the main narrative; another love story, which is revealed at the end of the novel. 

I didn't know this story would take such a strong hold on my heart.

I genuinely loved this book. It is an absolutely wonderful romantic novel. It gripped me completely from start to finish, it wrung my heart out. Clarissa is a wonderful first-person narrative voice, we are with her as she grows up and close by her side as she makes her way through life, making mistakes, gaining experience, learning about herself, and Tom is a marvellous romantic leading man, who finds, after the horrors of war, that a changing society offers new advantages to someone like him, but will he ever be good enough to be accepted by Clarissa's Mama? 

I thought about the characters. I became wrapped up in the love story of Clarissa and Tom. Theirs is an all-consuming love. Neither of them could ever love anyone else. For them, in their hearts and souls, there is only each other. They implore each other, 'don't let me go. Never let me go.' But they seem destined never to be together. The time and place is wrong, or the circumstances. I had to know how this would end. The passion and the pain of separation of these two people seemed to live beyond the words on the page, to have jumped from the page and become real to me; I cared deeply as to the outcome.  

Tom is so handsome, I could picture him. 'He shone. For there was a light that emanated from him, his soul, his substance.' This idea of him as a brilliant light that disarms Clarissa, a potency strong enough to overwhelm her.  'For there was something about him - his face - that dazzled me, quite literally dazzled me: as though he were a light much too bright to gaze upon directly. And in that light I was naked; every sensation amplified; each thought audible. I think I fell quite in love with him too myself whilst reading!

I read the penultimate chapter through tears. I was bereft on finishing this story. It reminded me that we have to grasp happiness where and when we can.

A beautifully written and utterly lovely romantic novel that is certainly amongst my favourite reads this year so far.

Published by Headline Review.


You can follow the author on twitter @judithkinghorn and visit her blog here.

Reviewed for amazon vine and for the publisher, thanks to them for sending a copy of this novel.


  1. Love all of those quotes...this sounds like such a beautiful read!

    1. Thanks Melissa, it really is beautiful in lots of ways. So glad you liked the quotes that stood out for me.

  2. I loved this one too, Lindsay - beautifully written and how refreshing to see how those at home coped during the Great War and all the major social changes.

    1. Thanks for commenting Treez. Your review of this one made me even more excited about reading it. It was definitely good to read about those aspects in this novel.


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