The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd Book Review

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Publisher: John Murry Press, Two Roads

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publish Date: 6 February 2020

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

A truly wonderful book that moves the heartstrings and leads you to question the climate issue of the present. Glasfurd has chosen to write a historical novel about the year known as, the Year Without Summer: 1816. In the Sumbawa Islands, Indonesia, Mount Tambora stood at14,100 feet but the 1815 eruption reduce its hight to 9,350 feet while also killing over 71,000 people and throwing so much ash into the atmosphere it leads 1816 to be known as a year without summer. Crops failed, livestock died and famine became widespread in North America and Europe. The eruption of Mount Tambora was a super-colossal explosion, the worst in modern times with the eruption of Krakatoa coming in second.

It is during this year that Glasfurd has written 6 stories, the majority based on living persons, that show how the year without summer affected their lives. Starting with the most famous; Mary Shelly. Mary during 1816 is traveling with her future husband Percy Shelly and Claire Clairmont to meet with poet Lord Byron and his doctor, Polidori, in Switzerland. This meeting in Switzerland leads to one of the literature greatest moments. The “incessant rainfall” and unusual summer would led to a competition over ghost stories that would see the birth of Frankenstein. Next is the famous artist John Constable who saw his life change drastically in 1816 due to bereavement, marriage, and painting. Sarah Hobbs is much less known. In real life, she was the only woman condemned to hang for the Ely and Littleport riots of 1816 but her sentence was commuted. The riots concerned farmers, grain costs and unemployment. Although the issue was bubbling away on the back burner the 1816 crop failure acted as the spark that led to the riot. In the book, Sarah mimics real Sarah’s life but it is very loose. Cleverly, Glasfurd doesn’t just concern herself with 1816 she also writs a narrative based on the account of the Captain of the Benares. In this narrative the ship’s Doctor, Henry, records his mission first, to discover the cause of a sound, believing it to be pirates, to then discover the immediate aftermath of the Mount Tambora’s eruption. This account is quite graphic and heart-wrenching! Next a fictional character and narrative. An American Preacher settled in Vermont, Charles Whitlock, stands firm and convinces his flock of farmers to remain and weather the storm when they were preparing to leave, thereby leading to disastrous consequences. And Lastly, Hope Peter, a returning soldier from the Napoleonic Wars who finds the remains of his home.

All six narratives interested me deeply, I know from reading some other reviewers’ reviews that they could have done without some and could have had more of others, but I felt that all the narratives played a part in what the author ultimately wanted to achieve. An example of what a natural disaster, that has an enormous effect on climate change, can do to all types of people at different stations and situations. It wasn’t until recently that 1816 could be connected as a consequence of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 and that the 1 to 2 degree chill effect had impacted the world through famine, politics and social unrest. A lot of parallels can be drawn from 1816 and today – but as the author questions, what does this knowledge give us?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.