I recently finished reading Summer with my Sister by Lucy Diamond, and found it to be an enchanting and witty summer read. When successful high-flyer Polly Johnson is made redundant from her glamorous city job in London, her world falls apart. Having worked her way up the career ladder, it comes as a huge shock when a departmental ‘reshuffle’ means Polly is to be let go. No London home. No luxurious car. No expensive bar tabs. No friends. No future. Or so it seems.
Having escaped her childhood village in favour of the bright lights and bustling lifestyle of London, Polly is devastated to find her only option is to return home to her estranged family. She returns under the guise of conducting ‘research’, her elaborate plan to trick her parents and village locals into thinking she’s home because she wants to be. Barely on speaking terms with Clare, her generous and kindhearted sister, Polly quickly begins to despise her situation, dreading the summer she is due spend in her sleepy childhood village. With her parents closing in on her, Polly realises she’s got to act fast if her cunning plan is to succeed, even if it does mean moving in with Clare and her children.
Lucy Diamond has written an abundance of books, but this one is arguably the best- merging humour, wit and tragedy. We experience heartbreak in Clare’s failed marriage and Polly’s deceptive life, humour in the bicycle incident (I won’t give this one away- you’ll have to read the book), and tragedy, as the sisters revisit their painful past. It portrays authentic characters, those any reader can relate to or recognise in their own lives. By the end of the novel, I felt as though Clare and Polly were my close friends, having felt deeply immersed in its compelling story line. I empathised with Polly’s dire situation, was joyous for Clare’s successful business plan and laughed out loud at the awkward exchanges between Clare and her colleague, Roxie.
As with most of Diamond’s work, an undercurrent of sadness runs beneath the narrative. In this case, it is the loss of Polly and Clare’s brother, who died twenty-one years prior. Both sisters mourn his loss individually, offloading the guilt they have carried for over two decades. We learn that Clare’s interest and subsequent success in swimming meant that she wanted both her parents present to see her perform, whilst Polly’s love-life and involvement with a then-boyfriend sees her drift deliciously into a teenage fantasy- only for them to later discover that during their absence, their brother had died alone in his room.
Diamond’s narrative voice is authentic and candid, for though the novel is predominantly uplifting, it is also littered with tragedies, often affecting those who least deserve it. It portrays a successful marriage that ends in bitter divorce, a high-flying career woman reduced to a penniless nobody, children made to feel inferior by their peers for lack of money and parents swooning in on the private lives of their (adult) children. However, she manages to take these negative incidents and convert them into a resounding positive. Clare’s divorce leads her down an exciting career path, Polly’s stint at home leads her back into the arms of an ex-lover, and the sisters finally disclose what has been haunting them since the night of their brother’s death, they both believe that they are responsible. This revelation leaves Clare and Polly in a state of disbelief, until it becomes apparent that the loss that once drove them apart, has also pieced them back together again.
Raw, honest, uplifting and comical, Lucy Diamond strikes gold once again with this life-affirming novel. It hits all the right spots on the narrative front, infused with complex, relatable and tragic themes. If you enjoy gritty, warm and engaging stories, then this should definitely be your next read.
Words by Paige Bradshaw
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