Book Review: A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson
Ellen’s staunchly feminist, progressive family found themselves flabbergasted by their daughter’s preference for honing her homemaking skills. However, with time they came around, and they are pleased to see her leave for a house matron position at a boarding school in Austria. Her childhood has prepared her for dealing with the eclectic, progressive teachers, but the little school has more problems to face than unusual teaching styles and the lonesomeness of the children of wealthy world travelers. Trouble is brewing in Europe in the shape of the Nazi movement in Germany. Of course, Ellen may have found an ally in the form of Marek, the school’s groundskeeper.
I have been fascinated with WWII ever since I was a very little girl. Also, I have no issue with feminists cooking meals for people or keeping house. Feminism is about men and women being able to do what makes them happy, not just what they’re “supposed” to do. I therefore expected these two elements to come together to make for an intriguing read. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
The main problem is Ellen. I simply don’t like her. I can’t root for her. I can’t enjoy any scene she’s in. In fact, I wanted multiple times to shove her into the lake the school is on. Now, I don’t have to like a main character to enjoy a book, but I do need at least one other character in the book to dislike her, so I’m not going around thinking something is wrong with me. However, everyone in the entire book simply loves Ellen. They frequently call her “angelic,” and everyone essentially worships the ground she walks on. Every man of anywhere near a suitable age for her falls madly in love with her. I can give that a pass in paranormal romance, as there’s a lot of supernatural stuff going on, but this is supposed to be a normal girl. Not every man is going to fall in love with her. It’s just preposterous! That doesn’t happen! Ellen is, simply put, a dull, boring woman with no true backbone. If this was a Victorian novel, she’d be fainting every few pages.
Then there’s Marek, her love interest, who I also completely loathed. Everything he does, even if it’s helping others, is for purely selfish reasons. He also has a wicked temper and frequently dangles people out of windows. Why Ellen becomes so obsessed with him is beyond me.
Ibbotson also obviously scorns many ideals that I myself hold dear. Any character who is a vegetarian or against capitalism or in favor of nudity is displayed as silly, childish, or selfish. There is a section in which the children are being taught by a vegetarian director and some of them switch to being vegetarian as well, and of course Ellen finds this simply atrocious and worries about the children. Naturally, the director is later villainized. Clearly anyone who eats “nut cutlets” for dinner simply cannot be normal. I expect an author’s ideals to show up in a book, but the book’s blurb certainly gave no indication that a book taking place largely at a progressive boarding school would spend a large amount of its time mocking those same values.
In spite of all that I can’t say that this is a badly written book. Ibbotson is capable of writing well, I just don’t enjoy her content at all. After finishing it, I realized it reminded me of something. It reads like a Jane Austen novel, and I absolutely loathe those. So, if you enjoy Jane Austen and WWII era Europe settings, you’ll enjoy this book. Everyone else should steer clear.
2.5 out of 5 stars