07 Jun The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop
A summer romance turned on its head by dark tragedy
It’s over fifteen years since Rachel last set foot on the Greek island where she spent her seventeenth summer, working in a bar where girls would come and go, loose friendships formed under the blazing sun.
When it was time to leave, Rachel chose to stay on, deeply in love with Alistair the older, but oh-so-charming man who found her the job at the bar owned by wealthy enigmatic businessman Henry Taylor, whose parties on the island were legendary.
But something happened, a tragedy that parted Alistair and Rachel, and she returned to the UK to finally pick up her life, to meet and marry Tom, and settle down into suburban life.
This holiday’s meant to be a pick-me-up for both of them, but it evokes memories for Rachel, not of a sweet and nostalgic summer romance, but of a season of passion and angst.
And as she recalls the past, she is forced to question her memories of that time on the island, when the girls laughed and loved, but also became involved in a world more shady than the innocent homes from which they came in search of adventure.
At the heart of it all is Alistair, whom Rachel has never forgotten, and when she picks up with him again in London, it looks as if it might be she and Tom who are history …
Sinister overtones from the start
This was such a powerful story, not at all your typical beach read!
Told in a dual time frame of then and now, and with sinister overtones from the start, its main theme is not one of romance but of loss of innocence.
Rachel at seventeen is a real ingénue, dazzled by an older man – the reader can see what is going on, but she oblivious to it, and remains oblivious, making her as much an innocent at 35 as she is when she first comes to the island.
In a way she is stuck in time, continuing to act like the young girl she once was, and it is very had at times to feel sympathy with her, as she pursues her own visions of happiness at the expense of everyone else’s. At seventeen, she can be forgiven for her selfishness; at 35, she comes across as hardened, cold and dishonest.
But of course there is so much to be stripped back in the story that explains why Rachel is who she is. Without giving too much away, it is fair to say that she is probably suffering from PTSD. She already acknowledges feelings of self-loathing and despair – opening herself up to the whole truth of the past could possibly destroy her.
A thought-provoking read
Despite my ambivalent feelings for Rachel, I found her story absolutely gripping. In both present and past, she is on a journey that she might not survive, and as the threads of both narratives draw together, the need for a positive outcome for her becomes more and more compelling.
And it is so well written! With descriptive prose and deft pacing, debut author Katie Bishop immerses you in the atmosphere of the story, in particular using the weather to great effect, with storms presaging difficult decisions Rachel must make, light breezes enlightening her happy times.
Though we’re on a Greek island most of the time, she keeps the focus firmly on Rachel and the other girls. Local life is background noise – it is what is going on at the girls’ lodgings, at the bar and at Henry Taylor’s sumptuous villa that remains the heart of the story.
The Girls of Summer is an intense, sometimes harrowing and always thought-provoking read that poses questions very relevant to news stories of historic crimes that we hear more and more of each day.
But with a superb cast of characters around Rachel – from Helena, Agnes, Priya and Kiera on the island, to Tom and her friends Jules and Eli back in London – it never becomes downbeat, always reminding the reader that there is more good than evil in the world.
The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop is published by Bantam Press in hardback and ebook
About the Author
Katie Bishop is a writer and journalist based in Birmingham, UK. She grew up in the Midlands before moving to Oxford to work in publishing in her early twenties. Whilst working as an assistant editor she started writing articles in her spare time, going on to be published in the New York Times, Guardian, Independent and Vogue.
Katie started writing The Girls of Summer during the first UK COVID lockdown, after becoming increasingly interested in stories emerging from the #MeToo movement. The novel is inspired by her own experiences of backpacking, and by her interest in how personal narratives can be reshaped and understood in light of cultural and social changes.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blogtour and to publishers Bantam Press for the copy of the book.
Catch up with the rest of the blogtour at the links on the poster
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