Miranda Seymour The Summer of '39

ISBN 13: 9780393048063

The Summer of '39

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9780393048063: The Summer of '39
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In a tale of evil set on the eve of World War II in New England, an elderly woman staves off madness by writing her memoirs, a seemingly artless series of recollections that keep winding back to a fateful visit from strangers in the summer of 1939

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Miranda Seymour is best known as a biographer, having written lives of Henry James, Robert Graves, and Bloomsbury beanpole (and patroness) Ottoline Morrell. In The Summer of '39, however, she takes the raw material of fact and turns it into disturbing, artful fiction. Her novel recycles a literary legend--the disastrous visit of Graves and Laura Riding to a young American couple shortly before the Second World War. But instead of serving up a merely scandalous roman à clef, the author has delivered an extraordinary spin on betrayal and manipulation.

Seymour's young Americans, Nancy and Chance Brewster, do indeed have an awful time with their guests (whom the author has rechristened Charles Neville and Isabel March). But Nancy, who narrates the novel, is no less intent on recalling the years before the British invasion. First we hear about her loveless childhood, during which she is sexually abused by her father. Then Nancy recounts her marriage to hapless literary wannabe Chance. Clearly their relationship is a tenuous one: he extracts money from her, she extracts glimmers of emotional strength from him (when, that is, he's not off on one of his mysterious trips). As if that weren't enough, the couple also gets involved with a psychological-cult leader, who sets the stage perfectly for the arrival of the houseguests from hell.

Nancy recalls the whole mess as an old woman, who's retelling her past as a way to exorcise it. She's acutely sensitive to her surroundings but incapable of understanding them, not to mention herself: "I still love the peace I get from routine, the neat, repetitive creation of order and lines. Apples lying tidily shrouded, six by twelve, gave me the same satisfaction I take in drilling a straight row of seed, or folding the corners under on a clean linen sheet. I like visible results." As we discover, she's also prone to inappropriate remarks and is busily cementing her reputation as a dislikable, aging oddball. Yet Seymour develops the back-and-forth narrative with an expert hand (if, occasionally, a heavy one in the metaphor department). The actual visit, which mounts to an eerie psychological assault on the entire family, is powerful piece of storytelling. And you thought you had the summertime blues! --Teri Kieffer

About the Author:

Miranda Seymour is a Visiting Professor of English Studies at the University of Nottingham Trent.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780783889351: The Summer of '39: A Novel (G K Hall Large Print Book Series)

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ISBN 10:  0783889356 ISBN 13:  9780783889351
Publisher: G K Hall & Co, 2000
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