Good books are often described as “unputdownable” by readers who enjoyed them. Having just finished Isabel Ashdown’s third novel, Summer of ’76, I have to say that I unfortunately found it rather “putdownable”. In fact, so putdownable that at one point I took a break from it to clean my bathroom as I just couldn’t face reading any more of it. I have to say that the hours I spent in the company of this book were not particularly well spent, although I am pleased to confirm that my shower head has never been so free of limescale.
Set during the infamous heat wave of the eponymous summer in question, Summer of ‘76 tells the tale of Luke Wolff, a teenager living on the Isle of Wight. Just shy of his eighteenth birthday, Luke is spending his last summer living at home before moving away to college on the mainland, and it is a summer filled with first exams and then a holiday job in the local Pontins-style camp. It is the story of his friendships and loves, of a summer of unbearable heat and of a community that (according to the book’s description) is “gripped by scandal”. A scandal that Luke tangentially observes with his friend Martin while prowling drunk and restless in the heat around the island one evening.
Having read the description on the back of the book, I sat down to read it expecting the scandal to be at the core of the story. Except it isn’t. The scandal, by far the most interesting thing to happen in the whole book, appears rather late on and forms a quite minor part of the plot that seems to have little real impact on any the characters concerned. Nobody seems particularly “gripped” by it. Most of the story telling is about the everyday activities of Luke and his family, people complaining about the weather, people listening to T-Rex and eating black forest gateau so you don’t forget that it is 1976, which I found rather dull. Making the scandal a bigger plot thread with the minutiae of everyday life creating a backdrop to it would have created a much more memorable and interesting read, I think.
I found this novel to be uninspiring, but others may enjoy it as a relaxing summer read, particularly people who remember that summer for themselves and may find a little nostalgia in it. I personally would struggle to recommend it, however. I can see that Ashdown has won awards and acclaim for her first two novels, and I can only assume that they were better than this; every author is allowed a disappointing release and I think this may be hers.
Summer of ’76 by Isabel Ashdown
Published by Myriad, July 2013
With thanks to the publisher for providing this review copy.
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