Summer in February by Jonathan Swift

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Britain seems to have been plunged into a Summer in February frenzy over the past few weeks, with the film hitting cinema screens all over the country and the book flying off the shelves, so I thought I’d join in and have a read of the novel to see what all the fuss is about.
 
Originally released by Jonathan Swift in 1996, this novel has come to frequent bookshelves again this year due after it was announced that it will be adapted for the big screen, directed by Christopher Menaul. The book begins with Sir Alfred Munnings, retiring President of the Royal Academy, launching ‘a savage attack’ on Modern Art. His old friend, Gilbert, hears this on the radio and it takes him down memory lane, to forty years earlier, a time when Munnings and his life was entwined due, in short, to one young woman, Florence Carter-Wood.
 
To get a feel of the novel without me giving too much of the plot away, I am going to pass onto you a quote from the Telegraph, which features on the book jacket. Having just finished the book, I feel it sums it up better than anything I could write here. “Engrossing and surprisingly dark.” Before reading the novel, I read this quote and it made me think that perhaps Summer in February isn’t simply the fluffy romance I was expecting. In short, it isn’t. In fact, the book has much more heart and a darker undercurrent of themes than I was anticipating, however this did not subtract anything from the novel overall, only added to the story.
 
It think it’s important to tell you before we go into too much detail, that Summer in February is in fact based on a true story, (something I was fascinated to learn!) and indeed many of the characters (artists) are real, and quite famous in the art world. I am ashamed that I am not familiar with their names and after reading this book; I have taken it upon myself to research the truth behind the novel. Some of the main characters have biographies written about their real counterparts, something that would make interesting additional reading for a fan of Summer in February.
 
It’s true to say, therefore, that Summer in February was not at all what I had anticipated, but there are more pros than cons to the book in question.
 
Firstly, the setting of this excellent love story is very close to my heart – the novel takes place in the south of Cornwall (where I have lived for all of my life), in particular, around Newlyn, Penzance and Lamorna Cove. 
 
Secondly, the plot is realistic (which of course it would be, being based on a true story!) It is primarily about a love triangle between three artists in Cornwall. Don’t worry; you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of –or love for – art to understand Summer in February, despite the opening chapter tricking you into thinking otherwise. The artists in question are Alfred Munnings and Gilbert Evans, with Florence Carter-Wood as the love interest of the two men. Right from the off-set, it’s clear that Munnings is a marmite character; the audience and the other characters in the book either take a shine to him, or find his loud manner and arrogance a turn-off. Gilbert, on the other hand, is easily likeable, if a bit boring.
 
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The film adaption is a different story. It seems that, despite the popular casting of Brit’ favourite Dan Stevens as Gilbert, the film hasn’t lived up to the hype and has received largely mixed reviews. I urge you to pick up the book and go and see the film without judging it too harshly. Summer in February is a period drama for a rainy day, not an award-winning masterpiece, and I think it does perfectly well being just that – a good film. Just don’t build your expectations up too high. 
 
Review Central Rating: 3/5
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