Cover Image: The Year Without Summer

The Year Without Summer

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Member Reviews

I've always had an interest in this topic, being a huge fan of Mary Shelley. The author's aim is evident throughout her weaving tale of the global climate issues after the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. She serves up a cautionary tale, that even a short term climate interference can generate huge suffering. 

The story covers six different (and unrelated) stories in this time, chief among them Mary Shelley's summer in Switzerland which would lead to the writing of Frankenstein. Where some of the stories are deeply rooted in fact, others are looser in their approach to real history, but overall the entire premise rings true: we can't afford a world where the climate as we know it is destroyed. This entire story is both entertaining, and deeply thought provoking.
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All in it together...					

In April 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted. This far away, almost unreported event would have wide-reaching consequences as unusually bad weather conditions raised food prices and created famine around the world. Through the stories of six people in different spheres of life, Glasfurd shows some of the impact of the volcano and, without beating the drum too loudly, hints at what we might expect in a future of uncontrolled climate change.

The six main characters in the book are unconnected to each other except by the impact of the volcano, so that in a sense it works like a collection of short stories, although the format means that we get a little of one story followed by a little of another, and so on. This can make it seem a bit fragmentary at first, and not completely balanced since some of the stories are stronger than others. But together they give a good picture of how life was affected in different places and by different sections of society at the same moment in time, and so once I got used to the format, I felt it worked well.

Henry is the surgeon aboard the British ship Benares, sent to Sumbawa Island to investigate reports of loud explosions there. It is through his letters home that we are told about the immediate devastation of the volcano on the local population, and of the dire failure of the British rulers to provide adequate aid to the surviving islanders, whose entire crops were destroyed and water sources polluted. Some of the descriptions have all the imagery of horror stories, made worse by knowing that they are true.

Glasfurd then swings away from Indonesia to our more familiar world some months later, once the atmospheric effects of the volcano had begun to seriously affect weather patterns around the world. We meet John Constable, trying to make his way as a painter and gain entry to the prestigious Royal Academy; and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, travelling with her lover Percy Shelley and her young son on the fateful trip during which she would find the inspiration to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein. But Glasfurd shows us the lives of commoners too – Sarah, a peasant girl doing jobbing work on farms in the Fens at at time of famine and increased mechanisation, and caught up in the protests and riots arising out of the desperation of the rural poor; Hope Peter, a soldier returned from the Napoleonic Wars to a land not in any way fit for heroes, desperately seeking some means of earning a living in a country that showed him no welcome home; and across the Atlantic we meet Charles, a preacher in Vermont, caught up in the lives of the farming community there as crops fail and the already hard life becomes even harder.

While I found all of the stories had enough interest in them to hold my attention, the two that stood out most for me were Mary Shelley’s and the young farm worker Sarah’s. Mary’s story centres on the famous challenge among the group of friends that included Byron and John Polidori to each write a story – a challenge that only Polidori and Mary met, with Polidori’s The Vampyre perhaps owing its place in history mostly to its connection to Shelley’s Frankenstein. But this is not a cosily described fun vacation – Glasfurd shows the hardness of Mary’s life, partly because of the harsh weather of the year, but also because of the grief she still feels over the loss of her first child and the uncertainty of her unconventional status as an unmarried woman living openly with her lover. Byron doesn’t come out of it well, and nor does Shelley really – although they both encourage Mary to join in with the challenge by writing her own story, they don’t treat her seriously as an equal. Of course, since her legacy turned out to be vastly superior and more influential than either of theirs, I guess they were right, but not quite in the way they thought... ;)

Young Sarah I loved – she stole my heart completely with her frank and funny outlook on her hand-to-mouth existence and her irreverence and lack of respect for the farmers, ministers and general do-gooders who felt that the poor should be grateful for a penny of pay and a bowl of thin soup after twelve or fourteen hours of physical labour. Her section is given in the first person, and her voice reminded me a lot of the wonderful Bessy in The Observations, another feisty young girl uncowed by the circumstances of her life. As the younger farm workers gradually band together to demand better pay and conditions, I was cheering Sarah on, but with a sense of dread since this was a period in which the authorities showed no mercy to challenges from those they saw as potential revolutionaries.

The book has had a rather mixed reaction because of the way the stories are rotated without ever becoming linked. It worked for me, perhaps because earlier reviews meant I knew what to expect going in. While my enjoyment of the various strands varied, I found it a great way to give a panoramic view of the year, from rich to poor, artist to labourer, and of how all of society was affected in different ways by the climatic effects of the volcano. One I happily recommend. 4½ stars for me, so rounded up.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, John Murray Press via NetGalley.
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Mount Tambora a volcano in Indonesia erupts in 1815 and the consequences are felt across the World throughout the year to come..  An interesting read and very descriptive. Very cleverly written and draws parallels to the modern world we live in today.
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This is an interesting novel looking at the eruption in 1816 of the volcano Mount Tambora in Indonesia and the immediate aftermath of the eruption. The resulting ash cloud disrupts the climate of the northern hemisphere, causing crop failure, famine and civil unrest. Ms Glasfurd uses six different people from various walks of life to tell of the impact on people’s lives. The characters include Mary Shelley, John Constable and a doctor. 

There are small chapters with the different points of view - some in first person, some in third and their knowledge and involvement in the eruption and it’s aftermath are nicely developed. I particularly liked the story of the poor itinerant workers fighting poverty and starvation. I knew nothing of the eruption and “the year without summer” but this book made me do some research as it is intriguing to think how it affected people.

Recommended if you want a well written novel with disparate characters that makes you think.

I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley in return for an honest review.
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This book feels particularly relevant in 2020 - where something that happened in China has ripples across the world. This time it's a volcano erupting thousands of miles away from England, Europe and the USA but the effects are felt all over as the weather is disrupted by the effects of the eruption. Several different strands don't converge as much as run parallel as the reader finds out how the eruption has devastating effects all over the western world. A fantastic piece of social historical fiction that brings much of the stuff I was taught in school to life. Recommended.
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This was a story which mixed fact with fiction. One of strongest Volcanic eruptions in the World, which took place in Indonesia in 1815,.when Mount Tambora exploded. Some of the characters were famous others nonentities.
It presupposes the effects of the eruption on people living in other parts of the world. It was an interesting story and could reflect the action of a world Climate change.
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The Year Without Summer is an enthralling historical drama in the aftermath of the worst volcanic eruption in the world during the early 1800s. Weaving the stories of Mary Shelley's visit to Lake Geneva where she was write Frankenstein, the artist John Constable and three fictional characters, it is a tale of climate change and social history. It was a fascinating read when our civilization is undergoing a terrible pandemic.
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Of our time

It is the author’s good fortune or misfortune (I cannot decide which) that her apocalyptic novel is published contemporary with the Covid-19 world crisis. Professedly inspired by the impending disasters of global warming, the novel examines the effects of the 1816 volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies which triggered a climactic disaster throughout the world. Rain, storms, lack of summer led to catastrophic failure in harvest and consequent suffering of humanity. This really happened.

Glasfurd’s novel examines the effects of the year on a number of characters, some real, some fictional, in England, America and in France. Among the cast are Mary Shelley inspired by the terrible and unseasonable weather to write Frankenstein, John Constable, a struggling artist trying to cope with rural poverty as he paints rustic scenes, an American clergyman, self-satisfied and proud, brought low by famine, an ex-soldier, driven to desperate revolt through abject poverty and loss of employment and a mouthy young girl transported to Australia for speaking her mind against the powers that be.

This is a very moving novel, well written and gripping – but I found it difficult to enjoy, as all around me in late March early April 2020 the world seemed to close down in fear, panic and death.
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The year was 1815 that a devastating volcano affected climate change so badly that the population of the world suffered the repercussions in 1816 (and beyond).  Who knew that was the year that Constable painted two of his best known works of art, Mary Shelley started to write Frankenstein and the volcano affected others in many different ways too?  This is their story.  Largely fictional but with huge chunks of history this novel was an education to read, which I did in conjunction with Wikipedia to learn why Byron was known as Albe by Mary Shelley and to look at Constable's paintings from that time.  Some of the writing wasn't particularly easy to follow but the story was fascinating and I suspected it may have a synergy with what we're all going through now (March/April 2020)... I wasn't wrong.
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I don't know why this hasn't been written before. A fascinating and disturbing natural anomaly that impacted the whole world. It is also a chilling precursor for climate change.

​This book contains six stories from a diverse group of people including writer Mary Shelley and artist John Constable. What links them all is that they all suffered in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption in 1815, the cloud of ash so thick that it blocked the sun and therefore cancelled out the summer of the next year. 1816 became known as The Year Without Summer. This novel blends the effects of an historical event with fictionalised stories, some based on real people.

​The dull, sunless weather and the failure of the crops are described and the consequences observed from the perspectives of the six over the year. Some of it is harrowing and pitiful; always well done. Glasfurd has written each of the characters with their own voice making this multiple points of view aspect particularly good. The narrative provides a perfect study of social class at this time. 

Some of the stories are more colourful than others. A particularly bright one is the young girl who works at a farm, her tale being told in the first person complete with the local dialect. Others are a bit slow in places. It would have made the book better if it had the been formatted as a collection of short stories instead of the random swapping of chapters, unless all the characters met up at some point. But given their locations it would be unlikely to happen.

A very interesting and well-written book about a far-reaching event in nature. Ironically, the book is published during a pandemic, making it a disturbing prophecy.
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Weather is a preoccupation with the British that is before Coronavirus. We moan about rain, cold, heat, drought. This book really brings home the extremes of weather and its effects. In Vermont a vicar Charles yearns for rain, he is courting Laurel through a drought and see the crops and animals die all with a devastating conclusion. Sarah a farmhand is witness to crop failure and the corn laws, on the brink of starvation she is driven to revolt again with life changing results, the same with Peter the ex soldier who expected at least to be able to feed himself on his return from the war but is met with obstacles and frustration. Meanwhile John Constable experiences a different kind of hardship, although not wealthy he strives to marry the woman of his dreams whilst trying to paint in uncertain times. Also the lives of  shelley, his wife and their associates, their bohemian lifestyle is also affected by the weather, leading Mary to question her choices.. All of these events take place at the same time as the horrific Tambora eruption in 1815, this is witnessed by Henry a ships doctor, the consequences of the eruption are far reaching and terrible. 
Very good descriptive novel especially lives of artisists.
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The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd:
Set in 1815, this novel follows the lives of six characters, all of whom experience cataclysmic changes to their lives due to the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The six characters are disparate and fascinating, including a ship’s surgeon, Henry Hogg, and Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. 
The eruption of 1815 caused drought and famine and panic, and proved life-changing for the characters in the novel. The effects of the eruption had ramifications for everyone, regardless of their wealth or privilege, and I felt that The Year Without Summer was horribly prescient of our times, particularly in light of the Corona pandemic that is currently sweeping the globe. 
But that didn’t stop me from enjoying this novel hugely. Glasfurd’s prose was precise and evocative, and from the very first page I was drawn into this little known, but tumultuous, period of history.  
Glasfurd undoubtedly remains one of the best historical novelists writing today.
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Mount Tambora volcano erupted in April 1815. Twelve thousand people were killed instantly. And across the Indonesian region, between eighty and a hundred thousand died of starvation and disease in the following weeks. The far reaching effects across the world were to have devastating effects - crop failures, famine and social unrest. Across Europe snow fell in June and August; other areas has incessant rain, whilst in North America there was drought and wildfires. Weaving together the strands of history by the telling of the story of five strangers, all based on real people, this is a captivating and interesting historical account of a devastating natural disaster.
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In April 1815, in the area now known as Indonesia, Mount Tambora volcano erupted with devastating consequences, not just for the island itself. The repercussions reached far and wide. This book covers the stories of people around the world during the months that followed and imagines what might have been the consequences  when a huge cloud of volcanic ash blotted out the sunlight and affected the weather. I found it fascinating to read how the changes in the weather influenced the artist John Constable and the writer Mary Shelley; In Europe and North America, crop failures and famine affected the lives of poor farm labourers - food riots were cruelly subdued - and the faith of religious communities shaken to the core. As in all tragedies, the hardships brought out the best, and worst, in individuals. 
I was particularly interested to read this book because the English teacher at the school where I worked wrote a play for pupils to perform called 'The Year without a Summer' about the impact of the the events on the rural, coastal community of North Devon..
Not only is this book well researched and informative, it is readable and engaging. The different characters come to life through the pages as they cope with disaster and trauma in different ways, both creatively and destructively.
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This felt like a somewhat timely read with everything that's going on in the world right now. The eruption of a volcano in Indonesia causes worldwide repercussions, plunging the northern hemisphere into a second winter, destroying crops and leaving many without sufficient food to survive. Unlike the modern world, the people of 1815/1816 didn't have the internet to spread the word, therefore the cause of the unseasonal weather was unknown to most, leading to a sense that the end of days was nigh.

The Year Without Summer weaves together the stories of several different characters, including Mary Shelley and artist John Constable. The fortunes, or misfortunes, are recounted over several months, and are unflinching in their portrayal of both the hardships caused by the weather and the corruption and inequality in society - the rich sitting on their wealth and food stockpiles while the poor are hung for daring to rise up against them.

It's an absorbing read, particularly considering I knew very little about the events of the summer of 1816. More interesting than the immediate effects, though, were the long term repercussions, which were explored in brief in an afterword which explained the social and cultural reforms that came as a result of the eruption. It made the rather harrowing tales feel less bleak, to know that there was change as a result of everything the characters went through.

There's not much good news in the story, which at times makes it a little heavy, but if you're interested in history, particularly the history of catastrophes and disasters, then definitely pick this one up.

My thanks to Netgalley for my copy.
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I received an ARC of this book from net galley in return for an honest review. 

In 1815 a volcan erupted causing mass death and destruction and climate change. Fomr this the author has woven together several time lines and characters all impacted from strange weather systems 
Pery Byshe Shelly
john Constable
Hope peter - a veteran of the napoleonic wars
Laurel - a woman in America trying to keep her farm going (i think)

The trouble - as far as i see it- is the time lines are too disparate, there is no relationship between them. I feel as if Shelley and Constable are included to add to kudos to the story line

it is tiring, laboured uninteresting. I feel as if the author might have been better to concentrate on the volcanic eruption and its outcomes in the immediate vicinity. I don't believe there are any real connections between the events described 

It was a stolid heavy read and I am not inclined to look for more by this author
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This was a beautifully written book with a few timely relevant plot points which made me want to pick it up. 
I liked it but I wasn’t blown away. It isn’t something I would put into any favourite book listings but it was still a good read and worth the time.
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An average kind of read for me, had a lot of promise due to its similarity to the current pandemic/ climate change situation but just felt it didn’t deliver. 

In 1815 Mt Tambora volcano erupts on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, previously Dutch East Indies and the fallout affecting the global climate for around 3 years.  Pre-industrial communities were hugely affected by the fallout, loss of life initially followed by crop failures, starvation and flooding across Europe.

Guinevere Glasfurd endeavours to use a host of characters to depict the unrest caused by the eruption including Mary Shelley and John Constable as well as others affected by the crop failures. The greed of those higher in the social scale is apparent and due to their cruelty, riots ensue.

Overall the novel left me wanting, it reads more in short story chapters and took me a while to determine the connections. 

Thank you to Two Roads publishers, the author and Netgalley for an ARC of this book.
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In this new historical novel by Glasfurd the years presented are 1815-16 and she melds known historical facts and people with her fictional interpretation. In April 1815 Mount Tambora on Sumbawa Island (Indonesia) erupted, HMS Benares nearby was ordered to investigate “explosions” only to find the central volcano had  virtually disappeared as a result causing massive destruction of the local environment and the inhabitants. It is said that this occasioned a huge spread of dust and debris into the air that spread to the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. The loss of natural light caused extremes of temperature change in many areas, crops failed and people went hungry for many years. 
Glasfurd presents the tale as a series of vignettes starting with “reports” by the ship’s surgeon Henry Hogg (in fictional letters to his wife at home in Britain) of what their investigations showed and the desperate attempts to “treat” the injured with inadequate medical supplies or knowledge. For 1816 we have intermixed tales of a number of people both real and fictional in Europe and North America. 
In Vermont we are introduced to a preacher Charles Whitlock who persuades his congregation to stay and face the failing weather instead of moving “west”. His love and marriage to a reluctant wife is graphically depicted against the unnatural weather and the failure of crops, animals and eventually people. His religious authority is challenged as things get worse and his view of himself and his God is altered forever.
In Switzerland we are given the tale of Mary Wollstonecraft Goden who is with her step sister Claire, partner Percy Bysshe Shelley and her newborn son. They will, of course, meet up with poet Lord Byron and his friend Polidori. The weather is extreme, food shortages are starting to abound, and Claire will end up pregnant to an uncaring Byron. And there will be the well known challenge among the bored writers to write something appropriate to their times. Mary, struggling with household difficulties in straitened finances and coping with a new baby (and the loss of her previous daughter) is at a disadvantage as she is not a writer of poetry – the highest art in the eyes of the men. She will of course start working on her novel Frankenstein and Glasfurd quietly links the developing tale to Mary’s understanding of increasingly “unnatural” physical conditions about her.
Back in England we see the developing artist John Constable. From a rural Suffolk he derives a private income from a mill on the family estate run by his brother. But still has insufficient income to marry his fiancée in the face of her family’s disapproval. His father is dying; with poor crops the mill income is uncertain. But his choice of landscape style is not popular (or easily saleable) even as the landscape around him is evolving through chances due to land enclosure and weather deterioration. But his is the relatively “wealthy” perspective.
Offset against this is a small cluster of other people Sarah Hobbs an agricultural worker in the Fens. With enclosure the medieval system of small/holdings has been swept away and most people increasingly relied on wages from daily farm labour – with uncertain weather and crops, daily rates fall and people can be exploited. 1816 is the year, too, when a lot of soldiers are returning from service in the Napoleonic Wars. They are damaged in many ways and have often lost contact with their families and communities. They are returning as the established “war economy” is being overturned, another financial disruption. “Hope Peter” an ex-soldier is trying to reach his village in Essex before having to return to London in desperation.  Collectively these characters show the deep hardships people face, their attempts to assert their rights to a decent living wage – and how of course so many of them failed. All of this is shown in a sympathetic but pulling no punches detail.
So a historical novel, but also massively relevant one to now. People extraneous to “economic” policy need. Increasing poverty against excessive consumption, environmental failure, and people trying to fight for a decent life against the controlling and unsupportive establishment and overwhelming odds.  The melding of the real with fictional characters really punches home the message to any socially minded person. It also teaches the lesson that “cultural icons”, many of them from wealthy backgrounds; may have been “struggling” creatives but that needs to be set against the grim lives of real people. It is written so well it all seems very real – the only criticism is the intermingling of the people cuts across the flow of the tale, but against the success of the whole that is something that can be tolerated.
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What an unusually informative book - and somehow it seemed appropriate to be reading about the effects of a natural disaster just now! Flitting between stories of characters from the range of the social and economic spectrum this story of the terrible effects of a volcanic eruption half a world away on a range of continents and their inhabitants had my attention from the start. The descriptions are vivid and often unexpected and the well-researched historical details added to the attraction. One to recommend.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this.
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