Welcome to the Book Club discussion for The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson. Below is a list of discussion questions to get the conversation started. We are excited to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to answer all the questions, or pick and choose a few questions to discuss!
- The author presents two strong women in the characters of Beatrice Nash and Agatha Kent. How are they similar and different? Why do you think the author chose to present both voices?
- Who is your favorite character and what draws you to him or her in particular? Whom do you dislike in the book, and does he or she have redeeming features?
- The author has said she thinks the whole world can be explained in a small town. Did she succeed at that in this book? What do you think can or cannot be described and explained within such a setting?
- Why are books about war so compelling? Do you agree with Beatrice that no writer can ever write about war in a way that will prevent it? Is it a valuable topic anyway?
- Did The Summer Before the War change what you knew or how you thought of the First World War? How so?
Questions from publisher.
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The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.
When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.
But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.