I read and very much enjoyed Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman earlier this year as part of my now defunct online book group’s reading schedule. I hoped that Summer Will Show would be just as enjoyable, but alas, I was rather disappointed with it overall.
Claire Harman’s introduction to the lovingly produced NYRB edition of Summer Will Show is wonderful. I liked the way in which she set out the social context of the story, and of Townsend Warner’s own life in respect to it. Let us begin with the aforementioned social elements, then. Sophia Willoughby, Townsend Warner’s protagonist, is a modern woman in many respects, particularly with regard to when this story is set and when it was written. She has decided to separate from her husband, who quickly moves to Paris, run a household complete with staff, bring her children up almost single-handedly, look after her Uncle Julius’ illegitimate son, and going out on male dominated hunts, for example.
Despite her strength and independence, Sophia is difficult to like, or to feel sympathy for. She is an interesting character on many levels, but her lack of compassion and overriding coldness, particularly at the more pivotal points in the novel, is difficult for a modern reader – at least, this modern reader – to stomach.
I write about descriptions a lot in my reviews, but Townsend Warner’s are truly sublime. The sense of place she crafts is always so well realised, and this, for me, was the real strength of the novel. I loved the monologue at the start of Part II as well, due to the beautiful writing and the amount of contrasts and comparisons which Townsend Warner inserted. The majority of the similes and metaphors in this monologue are lovely and inventive – for example, the similarities she draws between a cluster of dark fir trees and Hebrew lettering.
The first part of Summer Will Show, despite the darkness it included, was wonderful, but it did tail off a little afterwards. The middle of the novel particularly dragged, and in consequence I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.
Suggested accompanying playlist:
– ‘Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ by The Smiths
– ‘Lightness’ by Death Cab for Cutie
– ‘Hospital’ by Tellison