It is 1911 when fifteen-year-old Claire Ross arrives from Scotland to the Crepet’s home in the French countryside. A refugee of sorts, Claire’s father has died abruptly, leaving her an orphan pining for a mother who long ago abandoned her daughter and husband to live the life of an uncompromising artist, far away from the bonds and ties of a family. This is the beginning of Jessica Brockmole’s new historical fiction novel, At the Edge of Summer.
Madame Crepet, a long ago friend of Claire’s mother comes to take the young girl away from the dreary enclosure of a lonely house. Together, they travel to the Crepet’s château on the outskirts of Paris, where perhaps Claire can begin to forget the recent pain of losing her father.
Nineteen-year-old Luc Crepet isn’t thrilled when his mother asks him to take a break from his studies in Paris, and make the trip to the family home to entertain her rescued Scottish charge. But when he meets Claire, Luc feels something stir inside him. Claire feels this too, and the warmth of summer awakens feelings between them that go beyond friendship and comfort.
When unexpectedly Claire’s estranged grandfather comes to take her away, Luc and Claire are separated from each other with very little hope of meeting again. The second half of the novel contains the letters that Luc and Claire write to each other, in a desperate attempt to preserve their yearned for connection.
When Luc is drafted when war breaks out in France, and Claire continuing to move to various faraway place with her grandfather, correspondence becomes more difficult. When Claire abruptly stops answering his letters, Luc continues to send her letter after letter at her last known address, in the hope that someday she will find them and know that he was thinking of her while enduring the horrors of the trenches and enemy attacks.
Years later, Claire is an art student in Paris. She is convinced to take part in a project that designs facial prosthesis for soldiers whose face have been disfigured in the war, hoping that her work will restore their much needed dignity and hope.
Luc Crepet has become a broken man. One side of his face disfigured by the force of a bayonet, he wanders the streets of Paris, unable to cope with everything he’s lost. Persuaded by a friend, he goes to a studio that makes facial prosthesis with the weak hope that maybe he can look at himself in the mirror again.
When Claire begins to construct a new mask for a soldier she’s never seen before, she feels a tugging familiarity as she touches the man’s face to better study his features. She is in equal measure startled and desperately happy when she discovers that it is Luc under her fingertips. But after a brief conversation he walks away, and Claire is overcome with the feeling that she is losing Luc all over again.
After that first attempt Claire and Luc begin to know each other again. In the process they discover the man and woman they’ve become during those years apart. Struggling through the bitterness, devastation, and loss in they make a desperate attempt to recapture the carefree spirit of that one summer; asking themselves if they can ever feel that way again.
Jessica Brockmore’s narrative in At the Edge of Summer taps deep into the reader’s soul, as it recounts the suffering of those lost and maimed to a brutal war. Told from the alternating points of view of Luc and Claire, At the Edge of Summer reminds us of the possibility of life and love, in the aftermath of misfortune and tragedy.