Thursday 11 July 2013

Summer of 76 by Isabel Ashdown

It's the start of one of the hottest summers on record with soaring temperatures and weeks without rain; the summer of Abba, T-Rex, David Bowie and Demis Roussos; of Martinis, cheesecake and chicken chasseur; of the Montreal Olympics and the Notting Hill riots - the summer Big Ben stopped dead.
Luke Wolff is about to turn eighteen and is all set to enjoy his last few months at home on the Isle of Wight before leaving for college.  Life is looking good; his job at a holiday camp promises new friendships, even the possibility of romance, and his parents are too preoccupied with their own lives to worry much about their son's growing independence.
But with windows and doors constantly open and life increasingly lived outside, secrets become hard to hide.  As Luke listens in his parents' seemingly ordered lives come unstuck.  Soon the community is gripped by scandal, and everything Luke thought he knew about family and trust is turned on its head.

There couldn't have been a more perfect time to read Isabel Ashdown's third novel The Summer of 76 than over the past couple of day, as temperatures soared into the late 20s, doors were flung open and barbecues were fired up across Britain.  

Summer of 76 by Isabel Ashdown was published by Myriad Editions on 4 July 2013 (possibly the hottest day of the year!).

I remember that summer of 1976, I was 10-years-old and it seemed as though summer was going to last forever, never before had we experienced weeks and weeks of baking sunshine, water shortages and cracks in the tarmac.  It seemed like a whole new world, and even though we've had hotter weather in the years since, that first long hot summer will always be remembered.

The three page long prologue takes place a few years before the Summer of 76 - New Year's Eve, 1971 at a party on the Isle of Wight.  Although this short snapshot does not go in to great detail, the reader quickly understands what is happening.
Fast foward to the Summer of 76 and Luke Wolff is seventeen, finishing his exams and looking forward to starting college in Brighton after the summer.   He and his four-year-old sister Kitty live with their parents on the Isle of Wight.  They are a pretty ordinary family; Dad's a teacher, Mum stays at home to look after Kitty.  Luke has a best friend Martin - who people seem to think is a bit weird.  Luke fancies Samantha, who is dating his ex-best friend Len.  The weather is hot, hot, hot and when Luke lands a job at the local holiday park he's sorted - OK it's only cleaning chalets, but he gets to work alongside Samantha and can use the swimming pool whenever he likes.

The heat begins to make people behave strangely.  Luke's Mum and Dad seem to be arguing a lot these days - something about the parties that their friends hold every so often.  Dad's mate Simon seems to be the cause of some of this tension.  Is it because he encourages Dad to stop out late on drinking sessions, or is there something else?

Isabel Ashdown has produced an extraordinary story from ordinary characters who live in an ordinary town and on the face of it, live pretty ordinary lives.   She has skilfully added tension with the snappy weather forecasts at the beginning of each chapter - as the temperature rises, so does the atmosphere in the story.

There is a real art to creating everyday characters that pull the reader in quite as much as the Wolff family do.  Episodes around the kitchen table, in the garden, general bickering and the day-to-day are brought to life brilliantly and make the reader feel as though they are actually sitting in that kitchen as part of the family.

There are darker undertones to the story, a mystery that Luke can't quite fathom, although the reader has a clue from the prologue.  I didn't want Luke's life to be shattered, I wanted him to remain innocent, to go off to college and never uncover the secret.  Why?  Because I cared about him.  I also cared about Luke's friend Martin and I cared about his Nan - two brilliant characters, whose depth and dialogue added a special touch to this fabulous story.

Isabel Ashdown

This is a first-class novel, excellent writing and fabulous characters.  I'd recommend it to anyone.

I'd like to thank Emma from Myriad Editions for sending my copy for review.

Isabel Ashdown lives in West Susses with her husband and two children.  For more information about Isabel and her books visit her website :   She has a Facebook page and is also on Twitter


1 comment:

  1. I remember it well - 1976, the year I got married and we bought out first home, a new build. It had been so hot that the plaster had dried too quickly and over the next few months it buckled and fell off in sheets!
    Hot, hot, hot.....