That Burning Summer, set in England during the summer of 1940, sees Syson successfully delving back into the genre of historical fiction.
Living close to the English Channel, Peggy and her family face daily reminders that the Second World War is close, very close to England.
With a deft hand Syson poses tough moral questions with a light touch, enabling the reader to delve into their own thoughts.
The refusal of Peggy’s father to fight in the war, adhering to his pacifist beliefs, sets their family at odds with their staunchly Patriotic village community. Cleverly, their father does not appear as a physical character in the novel – the reader is left to form their own opinion based on the ad-hoc, ill thought out comments of the community, and Peggy’s attempts to piece it all together. An interesting use of narrative which is very effective.
Syson’s character portrayals are engrossing, particularly the complexity of Peggy. As a protagonist Peggy is unsure, but keen to carve out her own identity … whatever that might be.
The main focus of Syson’s writing is on Peggy’s discovery of the young man Henryk. A fighter pilot from Poland, Henryk is catapulted from his airplane just a short distance from Peggy’s house. Henryk’s story is also complex, as he struggles with the thought of going back into society.
He wants to hide. He needs time. Desperately needs time. Time and solace to process what he has already faced during his young life.
Despite the language barrier the Peggy and Henryk develop a connection, an understanding as far as is possible … and it is through their developing friendship, and the questions it brings into the narrative, which serve to hook the reader and propel them through this exciting novel.
Syson effectively uses the brother of Peggy in a further layer to her novel. Ernest’s obsession with reading and absorbing Government guidelines, serves to subtly highlight the underlining fear and uncertainty that pervaded peoples’ lives during this turbulent time. The threat is constant.
That Burning Summer is a gripping novel with much to offer. Surprising twists and turns keep the novel galloping towards its conclusion. Lydia’s skill lies in her ability to effectively convey the conflicting, and often confusing, feelings associated with being young in England during the Second World War.
‘You could feel it in your bones, even before your ears had worked out what the sound was.’