Book Review: “The Perfect Summer” – Juliet Nicolson

15th April 2009:

Having admitted to an addiction to business books, I must also confess to an addiction to biographies.


But this particular book isn’t the story of a person but of a year – that all-but-out-of-living-memory world of early episodes of “Upstairs Downstairs”.  The world of 1911.


“The Perfect Summer” casts new light – and new shadows – on a time, just less than 100 years ago, before the Great War, before even the Titanic.


It was, apparently, a long hot summer – one of strikes, debutantes, coronations and the end of court mourning for Edward VII.   And of course, the first seedlings of that future war.  The book looks at the changing world through the eyes of a ‘deb’, a butler, the Home Secretary (one Winston Churchill), a trade unionist, a choirboy and the new Queen.  From this cross-section of people a rounded picture appears – a sort of review of the year as told by those who lived through it.


The strikes, the unveiling of Queen Victoria’s monument at the end of the Mall, Churchill’s thoughts on the Kaiser (the new King’s cousin) all jump out of the book.  But for me the picture painted of Queen Mary is the most fascinating.   It shows her as a real person, shedding light on an interesting, thoughtful, often lonely character, usually always portrayed as standing tall, cold and imposing in her old age.


“The Perfect Summer” is a fascinating book – and, knowing what was just round the corner – a very poignant one, too.


Christine … from the Shed

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