Eva, Sylvie, Benedict and Lucien graduate from Bristol University in the summer of 1995. On the fringes of adulthood, they are ready to dive head-first into ‘the rest of their lives’. They’re not a group you’d immediately put together; Sylvie and Lucien are siblings and have learnt to rely on no-one but each other, having grown up fatherless with a mother more interested in finding unsuitable men than raising her children. Eva’s single Dad raised her on a diet of socialism, whilst Benedict hides his silver spoon upbringing from the others, afraid of their judgement. Nevertheless, despite their differences, their friendship sustains itself – through those heady university years of freedom, at least.
“The day felt dreamy and momentous all at once. Was it possible to feel nostalgic about something before it was even over?”
It’s post-graduation that their paths begin to diverge, as they all take vastly differing tracks. Eva becomes a city banker; Benedict a particle physicist; Lucien a club promoter/drug dealer; and Sylvie a struggling artist. They cling to their friendship out of a sense of loyalty more than anything; and perhaps also a nostalgic remnant of better days, before the weighty responsibility of mortgages and 9-5s.
If this slide into adult responsibility and drifting apart sounds miserable, it’s because it is. They make bad decisions, and have to deal with the consequences. Freedom doesn’t always equal happiness, and money doesn’t always equal freedom, and pursuing your dream doesn’t always equal success. They’re hard lessons to learn, and boy do they learn them.
From the title and blurb, you might be fooled into thinking this book is something else. The title, ‘Invincible Summer’, feels reminiscent of a chick-flick beach read – not that there’s anything wrong with those. You couldn’t be more wrong, though – the title actually alludes to a quote by Camus, the absurdist 20th century French writer; In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. Unexpected – and indicative, perhaps, of something deeper under the surface.
This apparent fusion of the cerebral and the chic-flick beach read didn’t exactly fuse seamlessly. The novel includes in-depth scenes describing the ins and outs of trading on the global financial markets, and peppered references to Camus and the Hadron Collider, but also contains flimsy characters in predictable situations – where deviating from a usual weekend routine clearly flags up an impending proposal, where a wave of nausea or a shotgun marriage screams pregnancy. It was almost trying to grasp something deeper about the nature of growing up and embarking upon an adult existence, but it falls short of saying anything meaningful.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading this book, however. I whipped through it in a few days; a light, at times touching look at the transition into adulthood and facing up to all that entails. The relationship dynamics and character dialogue felt real, and there are some evocative passages, like this one about London – which couldn’t be truer:
“Summer in the city: you had to love it. For nine months of the year London was relentlessly grim, but everything about it got better in the sunshine. The light twinkled on the river, sheered off the skyscrapers, and brought pallid, scantily clad city dwellers blinking out into the streets. Chairs and tables sprouted up from the pavement outside pubs and cafes, immediately filling up with people sipping wine and nibbling snacks. Even the hazy pall of the traffic fumes added a misty beauty to the place”
Don’t expect this to be the next One Day, but enjoy it for what is it – a light musing on growing up, and the elastic bonds of the kind of friendship that can be stretched but remain unbroken.