Saturday, July 06, 2013

the last book I read

My Summer Of Love by Helen Cross.

It's the mid-1980s, and we're somewhere in Yorkshire, where 15-year-old Mona lives in a pub with her father, sister and stepbrother, her mother having died of cancer a couple of years previously. Not much to do apart from obsessively play the fruit machines and surreptitiously get pissed, or at least not until Mona starts to earn some pocket-money tending to a horse owned by posh middle-class types the Fakenhams and gradually becomes aware of their daughter Tamsin.

Tamsin has troubles of her own - her parents are on the verge of splitting up, and her older sister Sadie has died of anorexia. With her parents away and rattling around the big old country pile by herself, Tamsin invites Mona over to stay. Well, two fifteen-year-old girls in a house together, you can imagine the consequences: much eating of unsuitable grub and raiding of the drinks cabinet, wild fantasising, protestations of undying love and friendship and a little light lesbianism. Some darker stuff too, though: a bit of vandalism and the beating-up of Tamsin's father's girlfriend Nina, and the setting-up of Phil, slimy local photographer and serial seducer of young girls, as a suspect in the disappearance of local girl Julie Flowerdew.

As summer flings do, this one comes to an end, as Tamsin's father returns, as does, rather unexpectedly, Sadie, who turns out not to be dead after all. Disillusioned with Tamsin's lies, Mona returns to the pub, only to find that Phil has topped himself in his car. As Tamsin and her stepbrother PorkChop catch up with her, the stage is set for a final act of violence.

The summer of 1984 really was exceptionally hot, and it's a well-worked literary trope that this sort of weather encourages both simmering sexual tension and occasional cathartic acts of violence, both of which are present and correct here. The whole thing of friendship and innocence curdling and going rancid in the sun is pretty well-realised, as is the furious intensity of teenage female friendships and the speed with which they unravel. That said this sort of black comedy is pretty hard to carry off, and I'm not sure this is quite well-written enough to do it totally convincingly. Also, any book which sells itself with a pair of scantily-clad jailbait-y milky thighs on the front cover and the clear implicit promise of some ferocious girl-on-girl action within had really better deliver, and what we get here is a bit half-hearted and perfunctory. But, if you're interested, it's on page 156 of my copy.

My Summer Of Love was made into a film in 2004, starring among others the rather lovely Emily Blunt as Tamsin, one which appears to take a number of liberties with the plot of the book.

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