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The Year Without Summer

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In 1815, a supervolcanic eruption led to the extraordinary 'Year Without Summer' in 1816: a massive climate disruption causing famine, poverty and riots. Lives, both ordinary and privileged, changed forever.

1815, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia
Mount Tambora explodes in a cataclysmic eruption, killing thousands. Sent to investigate, ship surgeon Henry Hogg can barely believe his eyes. Once a paradise, the island is now solid ash, the surrounding sea turned to stone. But worse is yet to come: as the ash cloud rises and covers the sun, the seasons will fail.

In Switzerland, Mary Shelley finds dark inspiration. Confined inside by the unseasonable weather, thousands of famine refugees stream past her door. In Vermont, preacher Charles Whitlock begs his followers to keep faith as drought dries their wells and their livestock starve. In Britain, the ambitious and lovesick painter John Constable struggles to reconcile the idyllic England he paints with the misery that surrounds him. In the Fens, farm labourer Sarah Hobbs has had enough of going hungry while the farmers flaunt their wealth. And Hope Peter, returned from Napoleonic war, finds his family home demolished and a fence gone up in its place. He flees to London, where he falls in with a group of revolutionaries who speak of a better life, whatever the cost. As desperation sets in, Britain becomes racked with riots - rebellion is in the air.

The Year Without Summer is the story of the books written, the art made; of the journeys taken, of the love longed for and the lives lost during that fateful year. Six separate lives, connected only by an event many thousands of miles away. Few had heard of Tambora - but none could escape its effects.

416 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 6, 2020

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Guinevere Glasfurd

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 122 reviews
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,679 reviews1,608 followers
February 8, 2020
The story charts the global effect of the Tambora volcano eruption and the unusual weather that followed in 1815. We learn how there was flooding, drought, crop failure, famine, cholera, typhoid and social unrest.

I knew nothing about the year without summer before reading this book. Among the cast of characters we have Mary Shelly and John Constable. Some stories are told in the third person, others in the first. This is actually six stories of individuals who are connected only by this event and they are scattered all over the world. This was quite an interesting read.

I would like to thank NetGalley, John Murray Press and the author Guinevere Glasfurd for my ARC in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,679 reviews1,608 followers
February 7, 2020
This story charts the global effect of the Tambora volcano eruption and the unusual weather that followed in 1815. We learn how there was flooding, drought crop failures, famine, cholera, thypoid and social unrest.

I knew nothing about the year without summer before reading this book. A long the cast of characters we have Mary Shelly and John Constable. Some stories are told in the third person, others in the first. This is actually six stories of individuals who are connected only by the event and they are scattered all over the world. This was quite an interesting read.

I would like to thank Netgalley John Murray Press and the author Guinevere Glasfurd for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Leah.
1,355 reviews205 followers
June 3, 2020
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.

Profile Image for SueLucie.
457 reviews20 followers
November 15, 2019
We have six stories here, short chapters of each interwoven throughout. None is connected with any other, apart from the fact that they all take place in 1816 in the immediate aftermath of the eruption of the volcano Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The resulting ash cloud disrupted the climate of the northern hemisphere, causing widespread crop failure, famine and civil unrest. Not that anyone knew this at the time - the author’s afterword explains that it is only in the last century that scientists have established the link between volcanic activity and climate change, and the profound effect even a couple of degrees difference in temperature can have.

I found the two stories featuring well-known figures (Mary Shelley and John Constable) interesting, the others less so, with one exception and that was Sarah’s story. Hers is the only one told in the first person and is all the more moving for that. I discovered in the afterword that she is based on a real person who took part in the riots in East Anglia and suffered at the hands of a brutal establishment.

The author’s stated intention in writing this novel is to point out the similarities between the situation in 1816 and that in the UK and USA today, and to look at the responses of those who lived through ‘the year without summer’ - their art, their writing, their acts of desperation.

It was a year dominated by strikingly similar debates and concerns about national debt, poor relief and protectionism as those that are being had today, both in austerity Britain and in Trump’s America.

And yet, of course, the past is with us. The effects of Tambora are everywhere around.
What is this story for? Where does all the knowing take us? Towards comfort? Towards hope? What use is that? What is a story for, if not to propel us? To provide, after all, urgent impetus for us to act.

So, a climate change warning here. I guess the novel works well in that respect. Overall, though, I found half of the characters and their experiences unengaging and I might have enjoyed the book better without them. A focus on John Constable and Sarah Hobbs, and even some interaction between them if that could have been contrived, would have suited me well.

With thanks to John Murray Press via NetGalley for the opportunity to read an ARC.
Profile Image for Jemima Pett.
Author 30 books323 followers
January 23, 2020
This is a book that takes a disparate set of people, and examines the impact of a cataclysm most of them haven't even heard of, upon their lives. While The Times has featured a story of a volcanic eruption in a far-off colony, most (if not all) of the protagonists do not read the Times. The general population has no idea why the weather has gone crazy. Snow in summer, weeks at a time, freezing what crops have struggled through the dim and dreary spring.

In England, things were already difficult. Napoleon has been defeated, and fifteen years of war are at an end. The soldiers are back, and most have no job, or even home, to go to. While some generals were fighting the French, the stay-at-home gentry were busy enclosing the commons - making sure that they got all the wealth of the land, and fencing off the places were villagers used to graze their solitary cow, or run their chickens.

Guinevere Glasfurd finds characters at all levels of society with whom you can sympathise.

The unemployed soldier, latched onto by a lame country lad, finds the family home gone completely.

The farm girl, who has to work hard for her penny a day - half what the men get, and half what it used to be. And with crops dying, there isn't much work to be had, even without the new machine called a thresher, that can do the work of a dozen men.

John Constable, the famous painter, has yet to find fame or fortune - he's struggling from commission to commission, and vilified by the rich patrons of the Royal Academy, but he can see the changes going on around him.

Charles Whitlock is possibly the least sympathetic character, but he's well drawn, as is the fate of the Vermont farmers.

And Mary Shelley has her own problems trying to keep everyone happy in their idyllic Swiss summer home, where she has to use a light at five to read, when it should still be light at ten. The storms over Lake Geneva and the mud running down the hillsides... it's easy enough to feel you're with her.

Mud - cold - snow - poverty - starvation. It's grim. It feels grim and it was grim. And Guinevere Glasfurd writes it beautifully.

You can see all the reasons behind civic unrest as the anger grows. You can predict the disease and starvation, the tempers and the brawls, the dog-eat-dog mentality.

And every now and then we return to the expedition that discovered the volcanic eruption had happened. The detail of the event, its impact, and the horrible, horrible consequences of a mountain exploding and raining tonnes of hot ash and pumice down on the occupants... Glasfurd takes you into the hellhole through seas of rock, to a desolate, decimated populace, where her surgeon can do nothing to ease the atrocity or people's burns.

Vividly told, drawing across all strands and all sciences, this is magnificent and awful historical science-based fiction. And this is natural disaster causing climate change... a temporary blip, maybe, but no less significant in its impact on the world, and people's way of life. A truly awesome book.
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,819 reviews195 followers
January 28, 2020
‘Never had there been such a bad year as this.’

In 1815, Mount Tambora on Sumbawa Island (then part of the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia) exploded. This powerful volcanic eruption killed thousands immediately, led to the starvation of thousands more, and had a massive impact on the world’s climate in 1816. The Year Without Summer, as 1816 came to be known, caused famine resulting in poverty and riots. Snow fell in the northern hemisphere in August.

‘It was the end of times; he knew of no other reason for it.’

In this novel, Ms Glasfurd imagines the impact of The Year Without Summer through the lives of six different people. The six people include a Fenland farm labourer, a preacher in Vermont, a doctor on a ship, a war veteran, as well as the author Mary Shelley and the painter John Constable.
None of these stories are related, each serves to highlight the impact of The Year Without Summer. John Constable’s painting was influenced by changes to light, Mary Shelley struggled to find a story to write. The Vermont preacher persuades people not to move and has to live with the consequences. The ship’s doctor describes what he sees in the ocean off the Dutch East Indies, and how helpless he is. The war veteran and the Fenland farm labourer are both caught up in riots as crops fail, wages fall, and producers seek to mechanise labour-intensive work.

‘The year of 1816 was one of flood and fire, of popular protest and revolutionary struggle, of Constable’s art and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.’

As I read this novel, in Australia in January 2020, I am surrounded by fires. Some of those fires have resulted from weather caused by existing fires. In the north, there has been some flooding, close by a massive hailstorm. The impact of climatic events is all too real. I found this novel difficult to put down. While the six stories are not interrelated, they don’t need to be. One purpose of the narrative is to imagine the widespread impact of such a climate disaster.

Unsettling. Highly recommended. I just wish I could confine it all to fiction.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Profile Image for Carole.
842 reviews10 followers
October 18, 2020
I really enjoy historical fiction, and this is a perfect example of that genre done incredibly well. The book follows 6 characters following the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, 2 of them being very well known figures (John Constable the artist and Mary Shelley the author of Frankestein). All the characters are engaging, from Henry (a doctor who is one of the first on the scene after the eruption and who records a different version of the horrors than the official narrative), to Hope Peter (a veteran of Waterloo and the Napoleonic Wars who has returned home with nothing), to Sarah who is a starving worker in a small village struggling to earn money for food. What I really liked about this novel was how wider events are clearly seen as having an influence on the characters' lives, even if they do not know that themselves. Looking through our contemporary lens of climate change gives yet another layer of meaning. And it is a very 'social' history, giving a (fictional) voice to those who are traditionally left out of the official histories. The fact that it is very well written is just the icing on the cake! Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Kinga.
411 reviews12 followers
August 5, 2022
This is a very good book based on multiple points of view, set in 1815 and 1816, following the explosion of Mount Tambora. The explosion of this volcano had far-reaching effects with changes to climate, which included droughts, hail and snow in the summer and heavy rains. As readers, we follow six characters as the impact of the explosion affects their lives. We meet Henry Hogg, a surgeon on a ship sent to investigate the cause of the noise. We also encounter Mary Shelley, John Constable, Charles Whitlock (a preacher in Vermont), Sarah Hobbs (a farm labourer in the Fens) and Hope Peter (a soldier returning home from the Napoleanic war). The stories are not linked with each other, they are merely the experiences each of these characters lives through. I found them fascinating and moving.
Profile Image for Stephanie Jane.
Author 2 books229 followers
February 20, 2020
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

In a time when there is so much confusion and uncertainty about the potential for devastation from climate change, looking back just over two centuries to 1816 can give us an idea. In her new novel, The Year Without Summer, Guinevere Glasfurd does just that. Ash fallout from a huge volcanic eruption in Indonesia changed weather patterns around the globe, albeit only for months rather than permanently, but the effects were catastrophic. This unusually styled novel interweaves six people's very different experiences. Each of them take turns to speak to us readers, sometimes directly, sometimes in the third person or through letters and, as the individual narrative lines don't ever converge, the approach felt to me more like reading a short story collection at the beginning. It wasn't until I had met characters three or four times that I became really drawn into their stories.

I did think that Glasfurd had picked an interesting range of people and locations on which to focus. I was first drawn to The Year Without Summer for its Mary Shelley connection, but actually ended up feeling most moved by the stories of Sarah Hobbs and Hope Peter. I knew little about the dire social situation in England at that time - although can now see it's pretty much what our current Tory government would like to return us all to! This is the time of the Luddite Rebellions and Glasfurd shows similar acts of unrest across fenland farming communities where jobs are being usurped by new machines and Common lands stolen by rich landowners, leaving thousands of semi-skilled farm workers unemployed and starving through no fault of their own.

The Year Without Summer is a harsh read on several levels because of the horrors of its subjects. I wish I could now unsee Henry's grim descriptions of Sumbawa island and its surrounding seas, for example. Glasfurd's prose is beautiful however and I appreciated that contrast. This is very much a historical fiction novel and, I think, a well researched one which brings the events of 1815 and 1816 vividly to life on its pages. The book could also be seen as prophetic fiction. Its starving, transient climate refugees, its depictions of violent selfishness on the parts of those who have not yet lost everything, its unpredictable and savage storms and floods, its all-consuming droughts and wildfires. This all happened two hundred years ago with just a one degree dip in temperatures. How much worse will be the effects of a two, three, or four degree temperature rise?
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,551 reviews2,535 followers
Shelved as 'unfinished'
January 16, 2020
I loved the idea of multiple characters, some fictional and some historical, being linked by the unusual weather that followed the eruption of an Indonesian volcano in 1815. The parallel to our own time of unnatural weather is clear. Unfortunately, the voice didn’t draw me in and a glance at others’ opinions suggests that the various storylines don’t join up well to create more than the sum of their parts; 400 pages would be a lot to wade through for an okay book. I stopped at p. 21.
Profile Image for Louise.
Author 3 books57 followers
April 1, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Anjana.
1,784 reviews40 followers
February 19, 2020
This book has an interesting premise. I had never heard of the volcano eruption before, and it was fascinating to see the endless repercussions so long ago. I have actually been on a geo tour where the guide told us we were above what was estimated to be the mouth os a volcano, and the dimensions of it were so visually staggering that it sent chills down my arms. This tale begins excitingly. We see the events through the eyes of someone who almost saw the eruption and the direct impact on the people of the island. Then we move on to a few other people in different parts of the world and how the randomness of the weather affected them all. We have one person in the US, one in London, another in a smaller British village and so on. Each of these people was impacted by the weather. The economic ramifications of the collapse of the weather is a very topical subject, given the current scenarios around the world. The poor suffered in a disproportionate amount as they always do in such times. 

The problem was that the individual stories felt like they were just that, separate and removed from the other. This removed the feeling of a shared trauma amongst them and disassociated me from them. It was hard to get emotionally invested in all their lives. Of the six people, I liked three of the stories and was not so involved with the other three. The writing was effortless and a treat to read, but the subject matter did not hold my attention the way I would have liked. I think this book would be an excellent addition to any book club to start conversations and debates about humans vs nature.

I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is entirely based only on my reading experience.
Profile Image for Anne.
522 reviews
May 7, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Moray Teale.
300 reviews9 followers
February 25, 2021
A very uneven story of 6 lives transformed in 1816. The crux of the change is the supervolcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 which had a dramatic effect on the world climate. The consequences were wide-ranging but by limiting her treatment of this event to one storyline Glasfurd fails to create a clear, unifying thread of it. Having so many storylines that never explicitly connect means that the reader had to do a lot of heavy lifting in creating coherence and it just doesn't quite work. One of the problems of that this is historical fiction that lacks a lot of historical detail. There is too little explanation of the many events occurring which leaves the personal stories floundering. Fewer narratives with more depth and detail and more understanding of how the regulation contributed to them and was experienced by the characters, even if they didn't know it, would have created a stronger novel.
Profile Image for Fiona Hurley.
211 reviews47 followers
March 26, 2021
Volcanoes have had more of an impact on history than they're given credit for; for example, the Minoan civilization probably collapsed due to the eruption of Thera in 1610 BC. Closer to our time, the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 caused catastrophic climatic change, famine, food riots, and (perhaps less intuitively) the writing of the first modern science fiction story.

There are six stories in this novel, connected only by the volcano and the resulting "year without a summer". Is it a coincidence that the most compelling narratives are the two women: the teenage author Mary Shelley and the working-class girl Sarah Hobbs? Henry, the ship's surgeon who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the eruption, has a good voice, and John Constable's story is also interesting. The other two stories -- Hope Peter and Charles -- are less strong and more unrelentingly grim (not that Sarah has a happy tale, but the harshness of her life is alleviated by her humour and honesty).

Despite this unevenness, I would recommend the book to anyone interested in this era and the effects of natural disasters on human life.
Profile Image for Pam Chantrell.
539 reviews11 followers
May 2, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Hayley (Shelflyfe).
286 reviews5 followers
March 22, 2020
'All of life pushed past him regardless, uncaring or blind, and he knew not what was worse: those who saw and looked away or those who did not look at all.'

In parts I enjoyed this book. Parts were very descriptive, and pulled me in. Overall it felt a bit old fashioned in the way it was written, which fit with the timing of the story.

Until the afterword, where the explanation was given about how the stories were linked together because of the impact of the eruption (i.e. the change to the weather in other parts of the world) I wouldn't have understood how they were linked. It felt more like a collection of stories relating to each individual laid out in the foreword.

The book itself told of the devastating impact the eruption had, and the result for each of the characters in turn. It was quite a dire and sad tale.

I'm not sure I would read another book by this author, but I did enjoy it in parts.
Profile Image for Ellie Harris.
66 reviews1 follower
March 11, 2021
Fairly well written (although the changing from first to third person was quite annoying) but SO DEPRESSING
Profile Image for Helen White.
740 reviews10 followers
February 23, 2020
Glasfurd links several semi fictional stories set in 1815 the year of a volcanic eruption. Math Shelley is starting to write Frankenstein, Constable is struggling to make a living from painting, meanwhile revolution is beginning amongst those too poor to survive. Individually the stories are mostly bleak, casual death as crops fail and people starve. Even the characters we 'know' don't have easy lives. The afterward explains how huge volcanic eruption can have devastating climate affects globally - 1815 climate change then.
I'm not sure what to make of this as it's well written and interesting but so bleak. Yet that is possibly the point.
Thanks to Netgalley for the free review copy.
Profile Image for Rachel.
73 reviews1 follower
August 6, 2021
This book was not quite to my tastes - far too bleak.

It follows several perspectives as they struggle in the aftermath of the 1815 Tambora eruption. Two are well known figures - Mary Shelley, and the beginnings of her writing of Frankenstein; and John Constable, as he struggles with his art and his will to marry a young woman. The other perspectives follow a ship’s doctor as they come across the site of the eruption (the only perspective in 1815, all others were set in 1816), a young woman in Littleport swept up in the fenland riots, a returning soldier - also swept in riot, this time the Spa Field riots in London; and, bizarrely, a church minister in Vermont.

What I struggled with, though, is that none of these stories were connected, other than the fact that they lived in the same world. They were also so split up and disjointed, it was easy to forget what happened from, say, one Shelley chapter, to the next - which could be 3, 6, 8, however many chapters later! I think it would have worked better for me to have them organised by character, to fully trace throughout. I also have no idea what the American story had to do with the rest, other than perhaps to incorporate that this was a worldwide issue. If that were the case, I feel we needed more than one example of this.

I also struggled that none of the stories were without death. Indeed, 2 out of 6 of the main perspective characters end up dead, and another transported. It was probably a good reflection of the times, but it just felt overly morbid. I read for plot and escapism, and this struggled to provide both.

I will say, this book has been impeccably researched. I studied the spa field riots as a part of my A Level, so recognised a lot of key names as they tumbled about. Indeed, this was a very good social commentary on the underlying causes of the riots, which sheds new light on what I studied. It is very apt in its positioning about the debates of fair wages, welfare, and indeed the effect of climate change. But it was a slog to get to at times, but would be a great companion to someone studying the period.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Alda Saldan.
78 reviews9 followers
December 14, 2019
The Year Without Summer is a historical novel which narrates a year in the lives of six characters, two of them most likely already known to the audience: Mary Shelley and John Constable. All the six stories are independent from each other, but share a common ground: they're all set in the aftermath of the eruption of the Tambora volcano in 1815 in Indonesia and that explains also the title of the novel, as 1816 will be known as "the year without summer". As the reader learns in the afterword, that volcanic eruption was so destructive that it triggered huge climatic effects worldwide: a drop in the temperature, huge floods in Europe, and drought in North America. Through the different stories we read how climatic changes had dramatic social impacts, particularly for the poorests classes and, in the case of Mary Shelley, contributed to the genesis of her most famous novel, Frankenstein.

Among all the stories, I found the ones of Mary and Sarah the most interesting to me, but all of them add a detail, a new aspect about what was going now then that help us getting the whole picture. The biggest theme of the novel is without doubts the impacts of climate on our lives, a message that comes as an additional warning to what we are facing now and in our future.
Even if the novel is sometimes heavy with a sense of gloom (those were really difficult times) to me it was a pleasant read. I'd recommend it if you're interested in historical novels, especially when set in the XIX century.

Thanks to Hachette Australia and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this novel.
Profile Image for Keith Currie.
535 reviews13 followers
April 10, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Amanda.
Author 2 books23 followers
January 7, 2020
A fictional account of a fascinating moment in history.

The effects of the 1815 eruption of the Tambora in Indonesia were felt worldwide for three years after the event. Snow fell in summer, biblical floods washed Europe, while North America was hit with drought. Crop failure and famine led to social unrest, and the failure of monsoons gave rise to cholera and typhoid epidemics.

Glasfurd draws on her research to imagine half a dozen or so of the lives of those affected, including artist John Constable and author Mary Shelley. Each character forms a separate strand, which Glasfurd loosely weaves together.

With the exception of the tale of ship's doctor, Henry, the strands fail to engage. The inconsistent hopping from one character to another, then back again, certainly didn't help. As the strands do not intersect, the reader might have found it easier to feel for the characters had each strand been presented as a standalone short story. As it is the novel falls flat. A pity.

With thanks to NetGalley and Two Roads, an imprint of John Murray Press for the ARC.
1,241 reviews13 followers
March 21, 2020
In 1815 the battle of Waterloo is won and in Indonesia a massive volcanic eruption occurs. For one ship's surgeon, seeing the devastation is frightening. A year later and in Vermont there is a terrible drought, crops cannot survive, animals and humans are starving. Meanwhile in The Fens revolt against enclosures is brewing and in London revolt against taxes and prices is also afoot, snow in summer means crops have failed. For painter John there is a battle between love and the artistic muse and in Switzerland Mary sees a flood of refugees as starvation bites the poor.
Based on a series of true stories this book weaves the lives of six individuals into the aftermath of the eruption of Mount Tambora. Two of the narrators are wellknown, Mary Shelley discovering her muse and John Constable making a shift in his painting, but it is the four others that provide the most moving testimony. This is a great book in that it tells a very human tale which, although fictionalised is based on a worldwide tragedy.
Profile Image for Marie (UK).
3,091 reviews42 followers
March 25, 2020
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
Profile Image for Catalina.
758 reviews40 followers
February 6, 2020
A very interesting premise: how a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world can impact 6 different characters; showing the interconnectivity, the globality of the world at a time when most people were very locally focused. A very strong start that immediately draw me in. Such lyrical and suggestive writing style. Particularly skillful how the author manages to create 6 original and so different voices. Different not only in circumstances and experiences but so different in language and accents(if you like, even if I guess you can argue it's almost impossible to transcribe accents). But... along the way I've just lost interest. There are some very tragic events that truly touched me, but even so, it was not enough to keep me interested. I've finished the book because I had to, and I really couldn't care about this characters' resolutions. A shame, really!
Profile Image for Gianna Lorandi.
248 reviews19 followers
March 21, 2020
I had no idea this super volcanic eruption had taken place in 1815, super interesting.
I was a bit disappointed about the individual stories though, I didn't find them very compelling and as much as I wanted to like this book I was a bit disappointed.
I do think it's a massive warning to the world today about our climate change!
Thank you NetGalley for the advanced copy.
Profile Image for Laura.
598 reviews60 followers
December 27, 2019
I loved the premise - characters linked by the global weather disturbances caused by the Tambora eruption in 1815 - but I found there were too many narrators to invest in. The only one who really came to life for me was Littleport farm labourer Sarah. DNF @ 50%.
Profile Image for Margaret.
499 reviews30 followers
February 27, 2020
A most remarkable book, telling how the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora on Sumbawa Island in Indonesia in 1815 had a profound and far reaching impact on the world. It led to sudden cooling across the northern hemisphere, crop failures, famine and social unrest in the following year, which became known as The Year Without Summer and in North America as Eighteen hundred and froze to death. But it wasn’t until the mid twentieth century that volcanic eruptions were shown to affect climate change.

Guinevere Glasfurd’s novel illustrates how the impact of the extreme weather conditions affected the lives of six people. They never meet, or know each other, but their stories are intertwined throughout the book in short chapters, giving what I think is a unique look at the events of 1816. I enjoyed all the stories.

Henry Hogg was the ship’s surgeon on the Benares, the ship sent to investigate the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. He discovered the sea full of floating pumice and charred bodies, whilst the decks of the ship were covered a foot thick with ashes. The immediate effects of the eruption were simply tremendous and horrific, within a hundred miles forests, towns were covered, deep valleys were filled in and the contours of the coast were changed.

In 1816 Mary Shelley travelled to Switzerland with Percy Shelley and her son Willmouse, her step-sister, Claire and Lord Byron and Dr Polidori and after a month of rain, Byron suggests that they should each write a ghost story and that led to her writing Frankenstein.

John Constable’s love of landscapes is deeply unfashionable and his hopes to marry Maria Rebow depend upon him gaining a commission from her parents. His father is near to death and as he has passed his business to Abram, John’s younger brother, John has few prospects other than to make a living from his painting.

Farmworker Sarah Hobbs in the Fens is finding work hard to get and has to settle for shovelling shit in the stables in her bare feet for a penny a day. Always hungry and with work getting even more scarce she gets involved in the Littleport hunger riots. Her story is based loosely on a real person who was condemned to hang for her part in the riots, but her sentence was eventually commuted to transportation. The suppression of these riots was repeated in the 1819 Peterloo Massacre when protesters had gathered in Manchester demanding political reform

The other two people are fictional – preacher Charles Whitlock in Vermont is struggling, having persuaded his flock not to travel to Ohio to escape the draught, only to find that this is followed by periods of hard frost and snow in August. Their prospects are very bleak and death soon follows.

The other fictional character is Hope Peter, a soldier returned from the Napoleonic wars, who finds his mother has died, his family home demolished and a fence has gone up in its place, enclosing the land. He too ends up taking part in a riot – this one at Spa Fields at Islington.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s more like a collection of short stories than a novel, but it works very well for me, highlighting the global connections. It is of course about climate change, showing the far-reaching effects of the Tambora eruption, which weren’t limited to 1815 and 1816. It led to hardships in 1817 and 1818 with the outbreak of cholera and typhoid epidemics triggered by the failure of monsoons. As Guinevere Glasfurd explains in her afterword the eruption is ‘credited with social change throughout the nineteenth century and with the pressure for social reform.’

This was the first book by Guinevere Glasfurd that I’ve read, but it’s not her first book – that was The Words in My Hand, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and was also longlisted in France for the Prix du Roman FNAC. She is currently working on her third novel, a story of the Enlightenment, set in eighteenth century England and France. I’ll be reading more of her work.

Many thanks to Two Roads for a review copy via NetGalley.
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