Summerlong by Peter S Beagle
Summerlong is a book that I was greatly looking forward to. I’ve heard so many good things about Peter Beagle that I didn’t even think twice before requesting this one. It was just a no-brainer for me. However, I have come away from this one with slightly mixed feelings and in fact even now I’m still trying to figure out just how I feel about it. What I can’t deny is the power of the writing which is really excellent. I may not have read Beagle before Summerlong but that’s something that I intend to rectify.
This is a difficult book to give a traditional review for. The plot is very mild, and in fact the pace is a little ponderous – in fact this is a book that will make you ponder! This is a book of summer and one summer in particular that becomes extended for one couple who make the acquaintance of an enigmatic character called Lioness. Joanna Delvecchio and Abe Aronson have been in a relationship for many years. They’re both very independent characters who enjoy their own separate space as much as they enjoy being together. As a blustery winter sets in over Gardner Island the two of them meet a young woman called Lioness. Lioness is a waitress who seems to be running away from something and Joanna and Abe feel an immediate draw to her, a protective urge that sees them offering her a room in their garage space. To be honest there’s not much more that I can really tell you about the plot. Lioness is a mystery character and one that will have a profound effect on the lives of those she comes into touch with.
So, to the writing. Very evocative and really quite beautifully executed. The scene is set easily and the characters are all very well drawn, well, okay, more on that in a moment. The pacing of this is definitely quite slow and the fantasy elements very mild – its not a book that you will race towards the end, definitely a slow burner, although the action does pick up more in the latter chapters.
This is definitely a character driven story and this is something that I usually love. Great characters, well drawn. And this is where my mixed feelings come into play. I think the characters are well done. Abe and Joanna – on the face of it, yes, they appear to have a good and solid relationship. But, if you scratch beneath the surface do they really, are they together simply because that’s always been the case? They don’t really commit to each other, each keeping their own homes and I think that in itself says a little something about their relationship – which, to be clear, isn’t to say that people can’t live separately and have good relationships – more that with the two of them it feels like a statement, as if they hold something back and never really act true to their own natures when in each other’s company – in fact you could say that in the light of events they were indeed holding each other back to a certain extent. It’s difficult to explain because on the face of it they appear to be a loving and intelligent couple, Both maybe on the cusp of a little bit of disenchantment but that could simply be because they’re a little tired of getting older. Then we have Lioness. Our mystery character. It’s difficult to say too much about her – I’m pretty sure that other readers will have pretty quickly realised what was going on with her – there are clues sprinkled like breadcrumbs. Yes, she’s an enigma and I guess that makes it difficult for her to be written in a way that makes you feel an attachment to her. She’s aloof, withdrawn, even maybe a little cold. She is a character that will make you feel intrigued, she may also make you feel a little bit concerned about what impact she’s really going to have. You’ll want more from her but she keeps herself very much at arms length, and there is, of course, a very good reason for that but it does make you feel a little bit frustrated. I wanted to get closer and in fact wanted more of a story from her but that isn’t really forthcoming. And then of course there is the impact that she, so casually, has upon our couple.
So, without giving too much away I hope this is not a story of happy skipping bunnies. It becomes a little sad as the story unfolds and for me I felt like the characters actually didn’t act like themselves. However, on reflection I’m not entirely sure that’s true (and the rest of this paragraph may have slight spoilers). There was always something of an attraction going on here. It never felt completely innocent and so the events in the latter half didn’t really come completely out of the blue. But, that being said, and even though I had the niggles at the back of my brain, I confess that the turn of events disappointed me. So, I’m conflicted really – I don’t tend to think of myself as someone who only likes happy endings with rainbows and fairy dust. And, even though I felt like the characters acted not in a way that I expected – again, on reflection – I did expect them to act in this way so in actual fact ALL of them acted completely in character. I think, put simply, I wanted more for the two of them – and I guess I wanted a little bit more from our mystery guest.
I certainly didn’t dislike this story. It’s not a traditional fantasy read but one with characters based in the land of myth. It’s a very gentle read, sombre, reflective even and maybe not uplifting in the way that I hoped but definitely a book that will make you think.
I received a copy of Summerlong from the publisher through Netgalley, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.