REVIEW: SUMMER AT THE LAKE BY ERICA JAMES

SUMMER AT THE LAKE

Author: Erica James
Orion RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Summer at the Lake by Erica James is described by publishers as a “delightful new novel about lost love, fate and second chances”. Delightful is a good choice of word, because that’s exactly how I found James’s latest novel. It’s the second book I’ve read by James – the first was The Hidden Cottage, reviewed here – and the cover, blurb and publicity material all had me excited to dive in to the story. I love novels set in Italy so that was another draw.

When Oxford tour guide Floriana is contacted by her old friend Seb out of the blue, she is surprised, to say the least. The former best friends haven’t spoken for two years and now he wants her to come to his wedding in Italy. Seb’s the one who got away; it took years for Floriana to tell him how she felt and when she did, their friendship fell apart. Unsettled and in deep thought, she doesn’t see a car coming … then again, if she had, property developer Adam Strong and elderly neighbour Esme Silcox would not have rushed to help her. So begins a friendship between Floriana, Adam and Esme that results in the trio visiting Lake Como so Floriana can attend the wedding, Esme can track down the man she once loved and lost, and Adam can act as Floriana’s plus one and Esme’s “researcher”.

Each of the main characters shares in the telling of the story, with flashbacks used effectively as a device for filling in the blanks. Esme fascinates Floriana and Adam; keen to know her story, press her for information, and she keeps them coming back by stopping just when they want more information. As she tells the story, the narrative flashes back to the 1950s in post-war Italy, creating a sense of the present and allowing the reader to more fully identify with Esme’s thoughts and actions. She’s an endearing character and her story contains love, loss, sacrifice and tragedy; I enjoyed “meeting” the naive young Esme who fell in love with a soon-to-be priest, Marco, and never forgot him. Floriana is a refreshing character – she reminded me a bit of Anne of Green Gables with her zest for life; she’s someone I’d love to be friends with, someone I think would instantly bring vibrancy and colour anywhere she went. She also struck me as someone whose nature would catch people’s attention before her looks, partly because she didn’t make her appearance a great focus. Adam reminded me of Blue Eyes … is that why I liked him so much? In contrast to the self-absorbed Seb, he’s caring and reliable, but once he lets down his natural reserve, due in part to Floriana’s infectious energy, there was a sparkling, fun guy inside. It wasn’t easy for me to hope Floriana would wake up and see Adam in a different light.

Readers will relate to the themes of unrequited love and love lost, belonging and finding oneself, and the ever-present what-if’s in life in this story about finding (and keeping) “the one”; the novel also touches lightly on depression, loss and difficult parental relationships, giving depth to the more predictable aspects of plot. The dual locations of London and Italy’s Lake Como, beautifully contrasted the busyness of everyday life in London with the languor of an Italian summer break and made me wish, just for a moment, I could step into the pages and lounge by the lake with a limoncello. A refreshing, charming read, Summer at the Lake is one I’d recommend for anyone looking for something “not too heavy, not too light” but just right. 

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. This copy was courtesy of Hachette.

Bookish treat: Did someone mention limoncello? Or biscotti e un caffe?