To begin with this book was an easy sell to me because I find myself enchanted by the seventies in general and by anything to do with 1976 in particular. So a simple glance at the title made it a must-buy. When I discovered that it was set on the Isle of Wight, not only in a town but actually around a street with which I am very familiar (for it has been the venue of countless family holidays in more recent years), my complete and undivided attention was assured.
But mere familiarity of setting and nostalgic indulgence would not have been enough to retain my interest throughout a full-length novel were it not for a captivating storyline. And The Summer Of '76 does its work beautifully and with consummate skill by calmly setting a scene which is idyllic as well as ever so slightly twee, and then rousing the reader from that comfort zone by increments but in a way which is nonetheless quite relentless.
UNEXPECTED TWISTS AND TURNS
I am reluctant to relate too much of the storyline as much of the magic of this wonderful book rests on the unexpected twists and turns that it quite cleverly drip-feeds to us. In essence it is about a young man from the Midlands, in his late teens, who visits his aunt and uncle at their seaside home in Sandown and discovers a whole lot more about himself than he could possibly have bargained for. In the process of so doing he encounters a pretty young American student who for a while becomes his love interest, but events and cruel fate inevitably come between them.
From the beginning the seemingly disparate characters who happen upon one another by chance find they have much more in common than any of them could have expected. Eventually it is the sheer improbability of these relationships and interactions, like a soap opera on steroids, which makes the story so special, and so difficult for the reader to disengage from.
As the tale unfolds many themes remain constant, such as the Christian faith shared by many of the characters which conflicts them all the more as they wrestle with questionable events from their dim and distant pasts, and the helpful - and to some of us evocative – contemporary news bulletins and musical and topical by-lines which appear with apposite regularity.
COMMONALITY OF SPIRIT
Perhaps inevitably I found myself making comparisons with my own debut novel The Best Year Of Our Lives, not in a competitive way but rather in an intrigued and constructive quest for any similarities or differences between the writer's recollections of that glorious summer and my own. What became clear was that whilst The Summer Of '76 has a unique and profound vibe all of its own, there is a commonality of spirit which is shared by so many of us whose adolescence was defined by that era.
The writer has a flair for melodrama and for thematic writing which cannot be overstated. I am really glad I purchased this book, and feel doubly blessed that what I had expected to be a mere harmless foray into my own formative years turned out to be such a whole lot more. It would be good as a film, and I hope that one day it is picked up by somebody with the connections to visit upon it the recognition it deserves.
The Summer Of '76 by Ray Burston is available from Amazon in both paperbook and e-book format.