The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd – six views of a world changed by one explosion



There are six characters in this book, all of them fighting against the odds. The reason is simple – the eruption of a volcano – Mount Tambora. The year is 1815, but it is a chilling suggestion of how the climate of the entire world can be changed by one event, as in Britain, in Europe, in America, lives are changed by what happened when a mountain just exploded. For although one character actually goes to the terrifying site of the massive destruction and sees at first hand the death and suffering, other people who had never even heard of that part of the world are affected. Ranging from a young girl fighting her world, a young woman, Mary Shelley who finds inspiration for one of the most famous characters in literature, to a famous painter who discovers a whole new style, this book has a huge scope of people in great depth. 


It is a fascinating read, with vivid descriptions of landscapes and seasons turned completely upside down, winter in summer, drought then heavy rain, hope then surprise. This book captures real human emotions as the world is changed, and the people who live through the time have to change as well. I found it an incredible read, which moved from character to character and maintained interest in every way. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this amazing book.  


The first character to be encountered is Henry Hogg, shown in 1815 as the young doctor is on board a ship heading towards a potential pirate raid as explosions have been heard. It soon becomes evident that something far more cataclysmic has occurred, and Henry describes what he sees and experiences in letters to his wife. 


Later in 1816, Mary Shelley has to cope with literary stars as well as the shortage of basic food  on a famous trip to Switzerland as she seeks inspiration for a story that will rock many people’s perceptions of life. John Constable, struggling artist and calculating if he can marry his beloved Maria, visits various parts of Britain and witnesses first hand the shortages of food and the desperation of the poor. Sarah is a girl for whom survival is difficult, as she seeks work in fields empty of crops and for bread that cannot be bought. Further afield, a young preacher, Charles, discovers the cost of love in a time of scarcity and summer snow. Hope Peter, experienced in war and army life,  discovers real danger when he returns to England from a famous battle.


Despite the desperation of several of the characters, this amazing book with its detailed exploration of a world undergoing a change through the lives of six people is a well paced book. It is a vibrant description which must be powered by immense research in social history, but this research is never allowed to intrude, as the author never loses sight of the real people at the centre of the stories. This means that the reader feels alongside the characters described, and gains a real sense of a time which made people question everything. I recommend this incredible book of historical fiction with a unique focus.