I decided to read this novel after looking out of my window at rolling grey clouds and spatterings of rain, a sure sign that the summer has gone for another year. (I could, however, have left my reading of it until today, as it is the most gorgeous, sunshine-filled morning). I’m not overly familiar with O’Brien’s work, but this sounded like just my kind of story with regard to the plot lines. It is with slight sadness then that I have to say I was rather disappointed by it. The writing style was nice enough, but the story failed to hold my interest as I thought it would.
Eavan Boland’s introduction to the Virago edition of The Last of Summer is truly lovely. She writes with beautiful turns of phrase, and I love the way in which she drew so many parallels between the protagonist of the novel, Angele Maury, and O’Brien herself. As I began the novel, I found that it was possible to feel sympathy for almost all of the characters (as one Goodreads reviewer says, they are all rather screwed up individuals), but I couldn’t help but feel that Angele was rather insipid as a protagonist. I understand that she is supposed to be the beautiful French actress daughter of a beautiful French actress, but it didn’t feel as though there was much more to her. Jo, Angele’s cousin, was my favourite character (and actually, come to think of it, the only one I liked). I admired how shrewd she was, and liked her wallflower-like status within the family. She watched all of the time, knowing all the goings on and commenting on them only within her own mind. O’Brien’s inclusion of Jo’s thoughts are a nice touch in an otherwise almost stolid novel.
In terms of plot, this book offers little. It is a family novel, and it unfolds much like any other. A relative stranger comes into the fold, is welcomed on the surface but finds problems within, and tries to fit in as best they can. They shock and surprise a little with their actions, but ultimately, not much happens. That’s it. The Kernahan family, whom Angele goes to stay with, are a mildly intriguing lot, but there are no true eccentrics within the group. Just one would have livened up the entire novel marvellously. In consequence, I think that this story and its characters will fade entirely in my mind.