Reviewed by Emma Crowley
A summer to remember…
Charlotte Saunders has always loved the buzz of city life. So, when she finds herself abruptly fired, dumped and forced to leave London to move in with her sister Lauren in Cornwall, she thinks the world is ending.
To keep herself busy in the quiet coastal town, Charlotte agrees to help the local drama club. Designing sets for their performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, just for the summer, while she figures out her next career move. But could days at the beach, new friends and a dashingly handsome doctor, change Charlotte’s mind? Suddenly Cornwall doesn’t look so boring after all…
Many thanks to Avon Books UK via NetGalley for my copy if The Summer Theatre by the Sea to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
The cover of Tracy Corbett's new book The Summer Theatre by the Sea led me to believe that this would be a nice light, easy read. Typical of a lot of books in the women's fiction genre in that it would be the usual boy meets girl romance story, I found that wasn't the case and that the plot had a lot of hidden depth to it. I certainly got a more meatier read than I had bargained for as we follow sisters Charlotte and Lauren. The book centres around the coastal village of Penmullion and the local drama group the Isolde Players as they prepare their summer performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, to be held in the cliff top amphitheatre that overlooks the sea.
Although the ups, downs and dramatics of getting a performance to opening night do play a major role in the overall story, it was more the focus on the lives of the sisters and the various characters as in friends and family that surround them that took centre stage. Penmuillon is a gorgeous town where most of the residents feel a relaxed sense of well being and the community is tight knit but times are not easy for all and it was enjoyable to read of the trials and travails that face the characters.
We are first introduced to Charlotte who lives and works in London. On a daily basis she slogs away in an interior design company and doesn't see much of her family, I sensed she had more or less isolated herself from them. Yes she does make contact every now and again through phone calls but she doesn't necessarily rush to visit either Lauren or her father Tony. The death of her mother still has such repercussions for the family and maybe now that the glue that held them together has gone there is nothing to bind them together. No doubt about it Charlotte is a hard worker, the consummate professional who always strives to achieve perfection in every aspect of her job, but yet she is is controlling and likes her life just so. She has a life plan and wants it all to be on track and planned down to the very last detail.
So when things go off kilter and her world is abruptly turned upside down what is she to do? Initially, I felt immense sympathy for Charlotte, to my eyes she was unfairly let go from her job as nepotism plays a pivotal role. To make matters worse to arrive home to her neat and orderly flat to find her boyfriend of three years Ethan packing up to leave for a job in Paris must really have been the final nail in the coffin. Charlotte is self made and self sufficient but for Ethan that is too much, her controlling, domineering personality has just made him want to escape. Now with no job, no boyfriend and no home, Charlotte has to turn to someone she wouldn't want to impose on. Someone she wouldn't wish to know just how out of control her life has spun so rapidly, her sister Lauren.
It's clear Charlotte needs a new start and to have new experiences but when she arrives in Penmuillon she was bringing the baggage of London with her. She tried to bring the city to a coastal town and into her sister's life when really she didn't need it nor was it necessary. When she arrives I changed my opinion of her and I just thought she was too uptight and was not one of those people willing to live by the seat of her pants so to speak. To go with the flow, to do things spontaneously. I thought Charlotte was trying to inflict her ways and mannerisms on Lauren, and her twins Freddie and Florence, when really she needed to lighten up, reassess her life and think.
Right the worst has happened to me. The only way from here is up and I need to make the best of a bad situation. Do I continue to go the way I am? Did all these things happen to me for a reason? Is it me that needs to change or is the people I am surrounded by? The summer spent in Penmuillon as she awaits a tribunal for her unfair dismissal will either make or break Lauren for better or worse. Will becoming involved in the production as set designer help her change her viewpoints? Or will even the advances of a member of the opposite sex begin to break down the strong walls she has enforced around herself with regard to all aspects of her life.
As my opinion of Charlotte changed and I didn't feel as sympathetic towards her, my interest instead turned towards single mum Lauren. I warmed to her immediately so much so that Charlotte really begin to frustrate me and I wished she would really just chill out that bit more and and not always have to be so perfect. Her personality and actions were irritating to say the least. Lauren is doing the best she can raising her two children, who really were brilliant characters and written with such innocence and they provided plenty of laugh out loud moments. Life for Lauren couldn't be more different to that of the life Charlotte led in London. She works part time in a café between juggling commitments for her children and to say money is tight would be an understatement. Lauren is in a constant melting pot of pressure that is slowly reaching boiling point and now she she finds herself in a desperate situation of which she sees no light at the end of the tunnel.
I just couldn't understand how her family and friends let Lauren slide so much into what she was forced to do. Manipulation, cruelty and twisting the knife are all terms that spring to mind and surely Charlotte or Tony could see their sister and daughter changing before their eyes given the immense strain she was under. On the other hand, I really wished Lauren could have just opened up about what was wrong and to seek advice as to get rid of the problem. She had such a burden on her shoulders that even though everyone in the community cared it was sad to think that she couldn't release the stresses and strains she was under.
Of course there had to be some male characters present to balance with the ongoings of the female side. These came in the form of Barney, Nate and Paul. Barney is taking a year long sabbatical from training to be a doctor in London. He feels under immense pressure from his parents, both of whom are doctors themselves, to come back and continue on. But Barney has so many questions running through his head, he doubts whether becoming a doctor is for him at all. He is hoping the time away will give him clarity and the ability to make the right decision. Joining the Isolde Players is an enjoyable outlet for him and the calamities and catastrophes that occur during rehearsals involving Barney and co added lots of light humour and relief through the story.
But one serious incident makes Barney question everything again. I did like Barney as a charter and could see he was certainly torn in two regarding his future. But it was a case of he would have to step up to the plate and make a decision that no one could make it for him. I did enjoy the romance element of Barney's story but at times it felt there was too much distance between the person he has his eye on, that it happened very quickly and I would have liked even more conversation and interaction between the pair. It was like several steps had been taken without much discussion or development. As for Nate and Paul, I felt they played more minor roles. Nate was someone who really should have stepped up to the plate and confessed what he knew in order to help another. Paul's storyline although very relevant for today's society, felt at times as if it was an extra to the story that mightn't have been needed. I still can't fathom how Charlotte didn't get what was going on with Paul. Truthfully this just seemed silly that she didn't.
Aside from these issues The Summer Theatre by the Sea was an enjoyable read, if just that little bit too long. I felt there was a natural conclusion where the book could have ended instead it continued on whereas as things could have been wrapped up just that little bit quicker. Is the play a success? Do Charlotte and Lauren find happiness or do things go even further down the bad roads they are on? Can the community over come the adversity and bitterness in their midst? Will Barney reach a decision that he can be happy with? To discover all these answers and a cast of characters which will inspire lots of different feelings within you, then you'll have to pick up a copy of this book that has such a beautiful summery cover. This was the first book I have read by Tracy Corbett but I would be interested to read more of what she writes in the future.