Clarissa is almost seventeen when the spell of her childhood is broken. It is 1914, the beginning of a blissful, golden summer – and the end of an era. Deyning Park is in its heyday, the large country house filled with the laughter and excitement of privileged youth preparing for a weekend party. When Clarissa meets Tom Cuthbert, home from university and staying with his mother, the housekeeper, she is dazzled. Tom is handsome and enigmatic; he is also an outsider. Ambitious, clever, his sights set on a career in law, Tom is an acute observer, and a man who knows what he wants. For now, that is Clarissa.
As Tom and Clarissa’s friendship deepens, the wider landscape of political life around them is changing, and another story unfolds: they are not the only people in love. Soon the world – and all that they know – is rocked by a war that changes their lives for ever.
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.