Review of “That Summer” by Lauren Willig

This book employs some tropes currently very popular – there are two sets of couples, one in the past and one in the future, who are tied together in some way that becomes more clear as the story progresses; each couple goes through similar relationship arcs; and the narrative goes back and forth between the two time periods.


Most of this story takes place in the same Gothic house in Herne Hill, a district in south London, England. In the summer of 2009, Julia Conley discovers she has inherited this house from an aunt she barely remembers. In the summer of 1849, Imogen Grantham is a young, neglected wife feeling trapped in that same house. Both women are living lives mostly devoid of emotional connection, in Julia’s case by choice, and in Imogen’s case by circumstance. That summer, each of them is awakened in ways they never dreamed possible. But the barriers to fulfillment, especially for Imogen – a woman in the mid-19th Century – are formidable.

Discussion: There are some nice turns of prose in the book, such as this description of Gavin, a painter, trying to capture the enigmatic character of Imogen:

“His fingers itched to crumple the sketches on his easel and start again. A dozen Mrs. Granthams stared out at him in red and black chalk: Mrs. Grantham cold, Mrs. Grantham haughty, Mrs. Grantham wistful, Mrs. Grantham wary, but nowhere was there the slightest hint of amusement. He felt as though he were looking at a palimpsest, a medieval manuscript over-written in crisscrossed layers until he original message was all but lost beneath the confusion of text.”

There are also some good passages in which passion is voiced, but not acted out, making it all the more steamy for the lack of fulfillment.

One complaint, however, is that Willig uses the racist term “gyp” – in the 2009 section no less, to denote “cheating.” “Gyp” is commonly thought to be short for “gypsy”, and long used as an ethnic slur for the Romany people who immigrated from Eastern Europe. The term plays off the common stereotype of Gypsies as sneaky, thieving con artists. There is no indication the character would knowingly use such a term; it seems more a case of an author who is not aware.

Evaluation: I didn’t get as engaged with the characters as I have in books with similar dual constructions, although I can’t articulate why. But I did feel plenty of heartbreak over the situation of women in trouble in the 19th Century; they had so little recourse. As much as women still experience disparities, thank heavens we truly have come a long way (at least in some countries).

Rating: 3/5

Published by St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers, 2014


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9 Responses to Review of “That Summer” by Lauren Willig

  1. Beth F says:

    I have this on my list, but haven’t gotten to it yet. I wonder if the editor or copy editor pointed out the use of “gyp” to Willig.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I generally like dual narratives so I’d give this one a try. I can’t understand why an author would use a term like that in the modern day, though.

  3. I keep coming across one particular racist term (mostly in conversation) and believe the speakers have no idea of its origin/implication… and would, in fact, be embarrassed if they did. Hope that’s the case with this author.

  4. Interesting – I was not familiar with the racism term, too bad they felt a need to use it.

  5. Anita says:

    I was planning to read this, as I’ve been hearing about her work. It is an odd use of an antiquated term. I’m surprised. There are a few other words like this I heard often growing up, I think people weren’t always aware of how it sounded, then again maybe they did.

  6. Ti says:

    I don’t care for the dual format in most books. I used to be more tolerant of it but now I get bored with it quickly.

  7. Yikes to “gyp”. I’m shocked that author didn’t notice. I remember using it once in high school, realizing suddenly what the etymology must be, and being mortified that I’d ever ever used it.

    I like dual narratives in theory (far less often in practice), and I’m hoping that their current popularity will give rise to more really GOOD dual narratives (like The Girl You Left Behind, for instance). That would make me happy.

    (Oh, I just FINALLY got The Pieces We Keep out of the library. You reviewed it ages ago, and I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for my library hold to get in.)

  8. stacybuckeye says:

    Willig is one I hope to get to someday.

  9. I really like books that take place in two time periods, and this sounds like a good one (although it sounds like a sensitive editor could have helped — eek).

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