Allow me to take you on a tour of Deyning Park -the world of Judith Kinghorn’s ‘The Last Summer’ – to the world of Clarissa and Tom, to sumptuous parties against the backdrop of war.
Clarissa is a girl trapped in a gilded cage, who reads to escape her daily life and who meets a man who changes her life in ways she would never have thought possible….
Welcome to Deyning Park…..
I was almost seventeen when the spell of my childhood was broken
And through an opening line like that….I walked right into the world of Deyning Park.
Deyning Park is the grand house where Clarissa lives with her parents and three older brothers, Henry, George and William. The house was ‘built in the neoclassical style from honey-hued stone’ and has ‘a multitude of tall windows’ . From her window, she could look beyond ‘the six hundred acres of landscape gardens to the South downs in the distance. So I travelled to Deyning – the Deyning in my mind and took my book to soak it all up – literary style –
‘It was the only point in my vision that my father did not own, and I sometimes wondered who lived there,beyond my world, beyond Deyning.’
I meet Clarissa Granville aged 16 in the summer of 1914. The spell of her childhood has been broken by the arrival of Tom Cuthbert, who Clarissa immediately likes but who is considered below her social standing.
They first meet in a library – she often resorts to reading and spending time in the library to escape from what she considers to be her gilded cage.
‘When he appeared in the library that day, I was perched at the top of the library steps, reading a volume of Emily Bronte’s poems, and I can’t be sure but I think that I may have been reading aloud.’
Tom and Clarissa grow close but their relationship is both passionate and strained. They are often apart from each other and can only often meet in secret. When the war breaks out Tom and the men in Clarissa’s life are somewhat lost to her. This is where we see the changes in Deyning Park and the place of women and indeed men in society.
Factually accurate details of wartime and the class systems of the time have been woven into the narrative, and issues such as the suffragettes, the changing political climate of Europe and the threat of war are omnipresent.
The Last Summer is a walk into the past – to Deyning Park and everyone who lives and visits there:
‘People had gone but an echo of their presence lingered; their voices held in the atmosphere , passed on the whisper of trees.’
‘A meandering trail of pale linen and straw hats…..’
While the love story of Tom and Clarissa’s relationship is weaved into each and every page, the last summer is so much more than a love story.
It’s a story about war time and how men and women had their independent struggles to contend with – the men were sent away to fight and often die whilst the women at home had to struggle on and mourn together, keeping everything together for the sake of their families.
It’s a story that immerses you in the time and place of a young girl wanting to escape society’s expectations of her:
‘Like my mother’s orchids, I had been nurtured in a controlled environment, an atmosphere maintained at a consistent temperature, protected from cold snaps, clumsy fingers and bitter frosts.’
Judith Kinghorn has written a very visual novel – full of mystery, hidden secrets, forbidden love and human emotions. She transports you to another time and place, sits you side by side the Granville family and hands you a glass of champagne when you join their friends.
Deyning is as much a character as Clarissa and Tom.
Immerse yourself into a world of:
Sumptuous style mixed with war time rations
Love and heartbreak
Glittering parties amidst war time struggles
A changing world and hidden secrets
Welcome to Deyning Park
I am very proud to say that I will be having a cuppa and a nice cosy chat with the lovely lady, Judith Kinghorn, herself tomorrow. Do dress for the occasion and join us won’t you?