For sixteen year old Clarissa, life cannot be more perfect that summer as she is surrounded by the people she loves most in the world at her beloved Deyning, however dark clouds are gathering as talk of an impending war threatens to spoil her perfect idyll. Little does Clarissa know this is the last time her family will be together as her brothers will soon be fighting in the war.
At the beginning, Clarissa is an innocent who has been sheltered by her parents, raised to be a wife and a mother in a world of privilege that is about to disappear. Clarissa never thinks to question her place, allowing others to make decisions for her, but when she falls in love, she suddenly finds herself conflicted. Before it can become much of an issue, the war intervenes and Clarissa’s family is shattered by tragedy.
Clarissa continues to obey her parents, particularly her mother, and believing she has no future with Tom, she agrees to marry a family friend. However, before then, an unexpected encounter with Tom leaves Clarissa with a secret that will haunt her the rest of her days. For the next sixteen years, Tom and Clarissa continue to flit in and out of each other’s lives, until Clarissa finally reaches a stage where she feels able to take control of her own destiny.
The Last Summer is the story of two young people, Tom and Clarissa, who fall in love the summer before the outbreak of the First World War. Tom and Clarissa are from different social backgrounds and their love seems doomed from the start as neither can bring themselves to break free from the conventions of their class.
I have to admit I did get very frustrated with Clarissa and her constant willingness to do what other people wanted her to do, particularly when she stopped being that naive teenager. The relationship with Tom seemed to be consistently going around in circles to the point I was rapidly losing patience with both because they never seemed to be on the same page. While I appreciate Clarissa had to mature to the point where she could finally break free of the restrictions that had previously held her back, I just felt she and Tom wasted so much time by being too complacent. I wanted Tom to fight harder for Clarissa and not care so much about whether he was good enough for her but he allows Clarissa to dictate far too often.
Despite my reservations about the characters, I did think the book was beautifully written, especially the initial chapters where Kinghorn captures the long, lazy days of summer so perfectly. The writing is very visual and there is great depth to the descriptive passages which often have a dreamy quality, although there is a definite sense of doom lurking just over the horizon, dimming the beauty and colour. The change in Clarissa’s character, innocence slowly eroded by cynicism, also reflects the wider changes taking place in society as a whole generation is scarred by the war.