A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson, 1997
The first Eva Ibbotson books I ever read were her ghost stories such as Dial-A-Ghost and The Great Ghost Rescue. Her humor and sly writing caused me to shout with laughter. Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan took me back to my childhood reading of Noel Streatfield and Frances Hodgson Burnett.
I was interested to see her adult fiction showing up in the YA sections of the bookstores. I received A Song for Summer for Christmas and I have to say it was a perfect "vacation" book. The story of Ellen and her gift for "life making" was utterly and deliciously satisfying.
As the daughter and niece of notorious suffragettes, Ellen could have had a brilliant future as a political leader, an eminent scholar or scientist. But she found true happiness cooking with grandfather's housekeeper and "doing things with her hands." Instead of finishing college she graduated from a school of cooking and household management and found a job as a housekeeper and house mother at a boarding school in Austria.
Eccentric teachers, needy children and a handy-man who is actually a world famous composer are living, working and learning together at an "innovative school" housed in the dilapidated Schloss Hallendorf. Ellen's healing presence improves all their lives even as the threat of Nazism and WWII looms. Ibbotson fills the story with rich supporting characters who each deserve a book of their own and takes the storyline in many directions before bringing all the threads back together again at the end.
There is a decorous romance along with good food, gardens and music that make the book a curl-up-by-the-fire-with-a-pot-of-tea treat. I read a passage like the following and I'm ready to book a trip to England.
If only it had rained, she thought afterward...but all that weekend the Lake District preened itself, the air as soft as wine, a silken sheen lay on the waters of Crowthorpe Tarn, and when she climbed the hill where the hikers had perished she saw a view to make her catch her breath. In Kendrick's woods the bluebells lay, like a lake; there were kingfishers in the stream...
Ibbotson's low key humor punctuates the storyline.
And then, because they were both Englishwomen and their hearts were somewhat broken, they turned back into the room and put on the kettle and made themselves a cup of tea.I can't make a trip to England or Austria but now that I've finished the book, I feel like I have already been there.
It was Elaine at Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover who first alerted me to Ibbotson's "grown up" books. I will be reading more of them.