My love affair with Europe began during the (roughly) 3 hours that I spent watching one of the (supposedly) most romantic movies of the 90s – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. I still love parts of the movie, while I cringe today while I watch certain other parts of it. The romance with Europe has been ongoing, though. After the movie, I have read loads of books set in Europe and watched several Bollywood movies with a backdrop of the continent, and have always dreamt of going there some day. Some day, while the magic of Europe is still alive in my heart. Some day, before I become too old to appreciate it all – though I doubt that would ever happen. I don’t want to find a Raj there, but I want to go there with my very own Raj. 😀 I want to ride on the famous trains of Switzerland, roll in the huge green fields, take pictures of the mountains and the sheep, buy cow bells as souvenirs, admire the lovely churches, eat pasta and cheese, visit a cuckoo clock factory… the list is endless.
It was with these dreams in my mind that I picked up Marilyn Brant’s A Summer In Europe, a book that has been widely recommended all over blogosphere.
A Summer In Europe is the story of 30-year-old Gwendolyn Reese, aka Gwen, who is an orphaned school teacher. She has always done things by the book, and likes her life to be structured and orderly. For that very reason, an evening with her eccentric Aunt Bea and her Sudoku and Mahjong club is a nightmare for Gwen. For her 30th birthday, Gwen is expecting a ring and a proposal from her boyfriend of two years, Richard, but is sorely disappointed on that front. Her Aunt Bea does manage to rustle together a surprise gift for her, though – a ticket for an all-expenses-paid, guided trip to parts of Europe with her and her club. Gwen is initially skeptical of going, but then decides to take a chance and go on the trip anyway, and then begin two journeys – one to Europe, and the other Gwen’s internal journey. The trip makes Gwen have experiences she never thought she would, and think thoughts she never thought she would. She meets people of all sorts on the trip, and is left questioning the way she has always led her life.
Will Gwen change completely over the course of the trip? What are the sights and experiences that will touch Gwen during her visit to Europe? Will Richard fit in with the new thoughts and feelings that are coursing through Gwen? – A Summer In Europe goes on to answer all of these questions one by one.
I was expecting a beautiful, thought-provoking story interwoven with the beautiful locales of Europe in this book, but was slightly disappointed on that front. The book is more chick-lit than deep story, and though the descriptions of certain places have been done remarkably well, I felt them lacking in some way I couldn’t put my finger on. The changes taking place in Gwen during the course of the journey are depicted awesomely, as are certain moments in the story, but, overall, I didn’t get the same feeling as I do when I read Frances Mayes or Marlena de Blasi. A passion, a certain warmth seemed to be lacking, but, of course, that could be just me. That said, the book did make me fall in love with Europe all over again, and make up look up holiday packages to the place.
I liked the way the author has drawn out the personalities of different characters in the book, through a series of incidents. Two incorrigible characters – two brothers – did get on my nerves, though, and after a certain point, I began to wish the author would just cut them out from the story. The rest of the cast is quite cute, actually, even Gwen, who appears rather stodgy in the beginning of the book.
Throughout my reading of A Summer In Europe, I couldn’t help feeling that this would have made a better movie than a book. A few scenes would have had incredible impact if their backdrop could be seen on the big screen. I am sure I would have loved that!
I wouldn’t say I hated the book, but I didn’t exactly fall in love with it, too.
Overall, this book had a limited impact on me. I would say it is an average read – not too bad, not too great. Of course, someone else might feel differently about it. Do check it out sometime!
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts about it?