The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser – Review
By Helen Johnston
Welcome to the world of Downton Abbey, where the posh and the privileged meet in their grand country mansions to enjoy a life of tennis, picnics on the lawn, and dressing for dinner.
It is 1936 and a time when those living ‘upstairs’ expected to be waited on hand and foot by those below stairs.
The Summer House Party of the title is being hosted by artist Henry Haddon and his wife Sonia, bringing together old and young friends and family to enjoy ten days of innocent and not-so-innocent pleasure.
There’s dashing Dan Ranscombe, confident in his own good looks, stuffed shirt Paul Latimer and his lascivious sister Diana, the naïve niece Meg Slater and the odd one out, socialist Charles Asher.
“Interesting historical detail”
The guests will find their lives continuing to be entwined in the ensuing years and the story follows them through peace and war to 1945.
It is told mainly through the eyes of Meg and Dan, but it’s not a straightforward love story. Caro Fraser weaves in some interesting historical detail of the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Nazism, and then the Second World War, bringing with it sweeping social changes.
However, one of the most interesting characters, Paul, seems undeveloped. With his inherited wealth and idle rich lifestyle, it would be easy to dismiss him, but as the story unfolds he is revealed as a more complex personality. Frustratingly, this is not explored fully and, because we never see events through his eyes, we have no way of knowing what he feels about the blows life deals him.
“Solid summer read”
Other threads of the story are left dangling too. When Sonia adopts a baby, her daughter Avril is eaten up with jealousy and we are led to believe this will have repercussions as both girls grow up, but again this is not developed.
The relationship between Meg and Diana is also left up in the air, which made me wonder if a sequel has already been planned.
This is a solid summer read, ideal to take on holiday. Not too challenging but with enough depth to keep the pages turning. With it’s what-ho language of ‘old boys’ and ‘chaps’, and rich women relying on Cook and Nanny to make life run smoothly, it’s definitely one for the Downton Abbey fans.
‘The Summer House Party’ by Caro Fraser is published by Head of Zeus, £18.99 hardback