The Summer Country

Written by Lauren Willig
Review by Julia C. Fischer

In The Summer Country, Lauren Willig transports readers to 19th-century Barbados with two alternating storylines. Emily Dawson, a vicar’s daughter, arrives in Barbados in 1854. Emily has just inherited Peverills, a decrepit sugar plantation, from her recently deceased grandfather. Having never heard of this plantation, Emily is intrigued, investigates the ruined property, and begins to uncover her beloved grandfather’s long-hidden secrets. In 1812, Charles Davenant returns home to Barbados after completing his education in England. As the oldest son, he is set to take over Peverills, the family plantation, much to the chagrin of his younger brother, Robert. An idealistic man, Charles believes in the abolition of slavery, but freeing his own slaves is easier said than done. During the slave revolt of 1816, Charles’ beloved Peverills will burn to the ground, and this will have repercussions for future generations.

Willig describes her newest book as a cross between The Thorn Birds and M. M. Kaye, which is a very accurate comparison. Like these two, The Summer Country is an epic narrative, taking the reader to an exotic location full of family secrets and betrayals. Willig’s book can also be described as a Gothic mystery, as there is a crumbling, old house with a ghost, many skeletons in the closet, and mysterious deaths. Whatever the comparisons might be, it represents the best of historical fiction because it is a vivid depiction of a different time and place. But also, by reading this novel, one learns about the history and social issues of 19th-century Barbados, from how a sugar plantation operates to a cholera outbreak to slavery. As a result, one comes away not only highly entertained but also edified. Willig’s fans will be delighted with her latest!