The best gifts, they say, come in small packages. In a Summer Season seems a slight book for most of its length, but its subtle conflicts, frustrated hopes, and the internal journey of main character Kate’s heart – without warning these features take on a touching significance just at the end of the novel. Elizabeth Taylor (a different one) packs a powerful ending into this quiet book that one does not expect.
Kate and her family live in middle class comfort in Surrey, not too far from London, and the story takes place in the late 1950s. Kate had been widowed, but is remarried, to a man roughly ten years her junior. The bit of money they have between them allows a leisurely lifestyle: neither works, although Kate’s mother-in-law Edwina is forever trying to set up Kate’s husband Dermot in some kind of career. This push leads to the story’s main conflict; Dermot starts an apparently benign deception that nevertheless is a key factor in the wrenching events at novel’s end.
Ms. Taylor tells this story quietly: Kate’s frustrations are relieved rather promptly in most cases; her twenty-two-year-old son advances in the family business; her daughter gets over a crush on the curate. But the theme of the unity of this family emerges, and it seems to me that Dermot, and Araminta, the young siren of the neighborhood, are simply distractions, dazzling, diverting in their way, but only that. Dermot makes Kate happy, but the slow erosion of his confidence and self-esteem build up brilliantly to his ultimate failure. It’s a difficult, shadowy thing to see coming; Ms. Taylor does such a masterful job of surprising us with the climactic events.
In a Summer Season shows us our weaknesses, and shows how capricious our ideas of happiness are. We feel forces here that are quite beyond our control, and our emotional negligence contributes massively to our lack of control. This novel, gentle and lulling throughout its main course, surprises us with its sense of inevitability at the end, and teaches us to look with fresh eyes and appreciate our loved ones and our blessings, with hearts more open. It is a valiant, worthwhile effort.