Imagine Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April, set in the 1950s instead of the 20s and in Switzerland instead of Italy, with added post-war social turbulence. The result is The Swiss Summer. I enjoyed this book; there was so much wonderfully observed detail that I felt I’d been on holiday and didn’t want to come home.
The story follows a mismatched group of English people who end up living together in a chalet, resented by an elderly Swiss woman who has been looking after the chalet for her owner, an aristocrat who never visits any more. There isn’t much of a plot, as the focus is on the scenery, tourism and the peasant way of life. The latter is certainly romanticised and seem to be a different species who have nothing in common with the tourists they serve and loathe. I feel that the book is a valuable document of holidays in a neutral country, the sense of class erosion at the time and the new generation of young adults who were children during the war.
Mostly I found the narrative interesting and it has the occasional weird flash-forwards (if that’s a thing) that can be found in Gibbons’ later work and which deny a happy ending to certain characters.
A book that deserves to be better-known, I think.
First published in 1951. This edition published by Dean Street Press, 2021.