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 sabre 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 free thinking - 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 colourful characters that 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.
Radiant ... I found myself turning pages with increasing awe as well as pleasure. The provincial village of Rye, Sussex in the days just before and after the Great War is so vividly drawn it fairly vibrates - but it's the depth and sensitivity with which Simonson weighs the steep costs and delicate bonds of wartime - and not just for the young men in the trenches, but for every changed life and heart - that reveals the full mastery of her storytelling. Like a Jane Austen or Henry James for our day and age, Simonson is that good, and The Summer Before the War is nothing short of a treasure Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife