Wednesday, April 20, 2016

HELEN SIMONSON: WIT AND WISDOM IN ENGLISH VILLAGES



Who would imagine that author Helen Simonson lives in Brooklyn, New York? This native Brit who grew up in Sussex has lived in the United States for 30 years, but her writing seems to embody all that is English. Ms. Simonson originally worked in advertising and as a young mother took a Beginning Fiction class at her local YMCA. She said she wrote about England and its countryside because of her nostalgia for the place where she grew up. 

And, what a countryside village and villagers Ms. Simonson created in her debut work, the extremely popular Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. This novel has the usual suspects, but with a modern twist and a large dose of compassion, understanding and humor. The Major in the story is a widower who lives in a charming lodge, and the local shop is owned by a Pakistani widow, the attractive and wise Mrs. Ali. Their romance set amid cultural differences and relatives whose values are different does not always sail smoothly, but readers will find enormous satisfaction in this charming novel that combines both beloved stereotypes and a surprisingly different storyline.

Helen Simonson returns to rural England with her new The Summer Before the War. One reviewer called it “a novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal.” Beatrice Nash is a bicycle-riding well-educated young woman who arrives in a small town to teach and the locals react with shock at their first female Latin teacher.  Set just before World War I the book combines not just the changing lives of women, but the quality of life for everyone as the war commences. Great characters, romance and gentle humor also make this a treat for readers.

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