Emylia Hall's debut novel tells the story of Elizabeth Lowe, a British woman who is abruptly confronted with her past when she receives a photo scrapbook in the mail. The photo album is filled with pictures and memories of childhood summers spent with her mother in Hungary. As Elizabeth flips through the pages, she is bombarded with memories - scents, images, and sounds of her youth slowly bubble to the surface of her consciousness. Slowly, we get a more complete portrayal of Elizabeth's childhood - from carefree nature walks with her mother to the unmistakeable experience of first love, her summers were always filled with beauty and discovery.
Yet Elizabeth's summer romps through the hills of Hungary were abruptly abandoned, and only by journeying through her photo album, entitled "The Book of Summers," do we develop an understanding of why Elizabeth abandoned Hungary, her mother, and her first love.
The Book of Summers felt a little slow at first, but eventually I came to understand that this is because Elizabeth's memories are delicate and tightly compacted - they must be recalled slowly or risk damage. Sometimes Elizabeth is frustratingly stubborn, and sometimes she reminds me of my teenage self - when the world felt unblemished and limitless but could quickly turn into a dramatic tragedy. The Book of Summers is about the complexity of relationships, especially those of mothers and daughters, but it's also about the circumstances that influence both our cultural and personal identities.
Sometimes the novel felt stylistically inconsistent and the dialogue was a little shaky, but overall, Emylia Hall has created a debut novel that captures the essence of dramatic youth, the inconsistent yet powerful attributes of memory, and the consequences of pride.
The Book of Summers was released last month in the U.K., and will be released in the U.S. on May 29 in paperback.