Long hot summer

Camels in Wentwood Reservoir, South Wales, 1976
I have very fond memories of the summer of '76 - that summer of scorching temperatures that seemed to go on and on and on. As the summer drew to an end and school beckoned in September, my best friend and I decided something had to be done about the drought, and performed a rain dance. Very impressively within 5 minutes of starting whooping and hollering the heavens opened and we got soaked. There's nothing like being 10 years old for making you feel (just occasionally) godlike.

Coincidentally I also spent part of the summer of '76 on the Isle of Wight, which is very appropriate as that is the setting for Isabel Ashdown's novel Summer of '76. It's an endearing, sometimes comical coming-of-age story. Luke and his kid sister Kitty have been brought up on the island by their schoolteacher dad and housewife mum. They seem to be the epitome of a stable middle-class family; but as Luke prepares to leave school and the summer gets ever hotter, cracks start to appear within the family. And when Luke and his best mate, Martin, accidentally unleash a tide of gossip on the island, life will never be quite the same again.

Summer of '76 is a wonderful evocation of the period. Ashdown's detail is superb, and I was swept back to a period of which I have very happy memories. The young people and children are beautifully portrayed, as are the stresses and strains in the Woolf's marriage (think Abigail's party on steroids). Ashdown looks back lovingly to the era, but the novel, I think, also asks you to look back, and be thankful for where we are now. The medical and social advances that have been made since the 1970s would have made a huge difference to the novel if it had been set in the present day.

Perhaps the lesson here is to be thankful for what we had (if the memories are happy - there are going to be contrasting memories for both Luke and Martin), but also to realise that there is always room to improve. This is reflected in a small way in the lives of Luke and his friends, but can also be set in a wider social context.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of the swinging '70s, and have marked Isabel Ashdown as a writer to look out for.


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