The honesty with which Mitchell reveals why everything falls apart doesn't merely indict Edward or Clara but the way many of us approach our marriages and relationships. Many novels explore this subject matter, but what elevates this book is how Mitchell reveals the details amid Edward's experiences within World War I. The way Edward's day starts in the grim grip of wartime sets the scene for the novel. Perhaps the most disturbing element to this dual storyline is how much I found Edward's time within the horrors of World War I easier to read than his life in peacetime where I found him almost completely unlikeable. Ironically, once I'd accepted Mitchell was going to take her time revealing this scene, I was a little surprised to discover it two-thirds of the way in the book. This book will make you think not only about how Edward and Clara failed each other, but you will find yourself considering how people around the world treat each other and how the actions in your life have hurt and helped others.
I don't think that you have to have these interests to enjoy the book, though.
These are complicated people who navigate WWI and lives with social norms that were often a poor fit.
Also both past and present are equally interesting, as are the perspectives of the different characters involved in the love triangle.
But even if I didn't, I would love this book.
What has this to do with Ms. Mitchells novel? Summer reading is often synonymous with lite or non-literary stuff, hot pink chic-lit, or at best, a not particularly great novel from an established writer. (Though I did read Nausea sitting next to that pool that same summer). Better yet, what I mean to get across is that Ms. Mitchells novel actually evokes a feeling of summer. Emilys book is not inherently romantic; thats just the taste it left in my mouth, less E.M. Forrester and more Jane Austen. Since I cant seem to read a book this summer without comparing it to another, the author that comes to mind when I read the Last Summer of The World was Jane Austen. The novel may be about early 20th century artists; the beginnings of World War 1, and the early life of the important photographer Edward Steichen, but at its heart it is a struggle to understand how to be free and still obey the social code. But what makes this novel so deft is that Ms. Mitchell doesnt make this struggle easy for her characters or her readers. Ms. Mitchell is willing to let her characters develop in complex ways, never trapping the reader's sympathies in artifice; everything is earned. Having read a summer's worth of books that all play with narrative device of converging stories told from independent narrators, it was lovely to read this novel written in third-person, and I believe also in a style known in lit class as free-indirect discourse. But to construct a plot by moving in and out of the heads of various characters is both old and new; it's exciting because it generates a 360-degree portraiture of the emotional landscape of the story. This is how Steichen becomes a complex character and it also how Ms. Mitchell manages shifting our sympathies from one character to another without any glimmer of deus ex machina like the novel I mentioned above (or will be mentioning: Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino).
The Last Summer of The World is about Edward Steichen, a photographer whose life has fallen apart. In the flashbacks, told through photographs, Edward is married to Clara Smith. They are together and they are in love and their two daughters, Mary and Kate, are magical and beautiful but, at times, Clara feels that her life is slipping away. This book goes back and forth between these two worlds, showing the gradual collapse of Edwards life. Edward only wants to take photos and show them to the world, show people things from a different perspective. But, again, Edward tends to see the things he wants to see. There are so many characters and events, and this book covers so many years of Edwards life, that it is hard to put things in simpler terms. There were times I loved Edward. He knew a lot of things, about both books and the world. But she was all of the things Edward was. She had wisdom beyond her years her whole life, though some of the things that occurred in this book were out of her control. I learned many things from this book. It gave me perspective on the war, on the people, through the photographs that Edward really took. Edward and Clara and Marion and the things they have done to each other will always remain, but there is also that unknown that is always in front of them.