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Title: The Summer of Princess Diana
Author: Martha Reynolds
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Coming of Age Fiction
Young American Diana Driscoll is looking forward to attending the London wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, courtesy of her wealthy Father. However, while on a stopover in Switzerland, she receives a phone-call that dramatically changes her plans, and not just for the Summer.
The Summer of Princess Diana opens with a short prologue set in 1976 before moving to 1981. This brief mid-Seventies opener sets the tone of the novel. It’s light, charming, and incredibly readable, while giving a sense of something a little deeper beneath the surface.
Diana is understandably spoiled and indulged, but Ms. Reynolds manages to make her likeable and interesting. Diana is aware of her lucky position in life, and the superficiality she exhibits during the early stages of the book never becomes too irritating.
Following the life-changing conversation with her mother, Ms. Reynolds is careful to realistically develop Diana’s awareness of her impecunious situation without the prose losing its frothy, slightly fun edge and jaunty pace. This skillfully maintains the narrative’s engaging style while subtly drawing out Diana’s hidden depths.
Indeed, Ms. Reynolds has an intrinsic knack for knowing when to leave well alone to let the reader exercise their imagination, or simply sail through with the story. Unpleasant issues are not exactly glossed over, but dealt with in a manner that does not ask too many questions, either of the perpetrators or the reader.
This approach might be viewed as slightly one-dimensional and it could possibly be argued that elements of The Summer of Princess Diana could have been explored with more insight. Nonetheless, this simplistic approach is refreshingly easy to read, cleverly thought-out, and deceptively well-structured.
There is an abundance of fine, descriptive detail throughout the novel which brings the characters and settings vividly to life. In particular, the Swiss countryside is beautifully captured and the seamless blending of the French language with its English counterpart adds complete ease and authenticity to the story.
Once Diana begins to live and work as an au pair with the Brusadin Family, the novel really flies while still keeping the airy, feminine touch to the writing and the sporadic brushstrokes of gently whimsical humor.
The dynamic between the Brusadins and Diana is delicately examined, yet the reader can keenly feel the vulnerabilities, tensions, and subtle power struggles that exist between them all in the Swiss farmhouse. Intrigue, apprehension, and poignancy simmer through this area of the narrative, which combined with the brisk pace, make the majority of The Summer of Princess Diana hard to put down.
Kenny, the Brusadin’s son, evolves from a prototypical, tantrum-throwing toddler to a somewhat pitiful little figure surrounded by foreboding elements. The motif of Diana’s brothers running in front of a car during the prologue, and Kenny doing similar, lends a continuity and possibly premonitory link between his life and hers.
From Diana’s first meeting with Monsieur Brusadin, he exudes mildly predatory behavior. However, it is with his friend, Luigi, that a particularly nasty incident with Diana occurs. This is given more emotional depth than other troubling moments in the novel, highlighting its impact and Diana’s subsequent maturity and growth.
Madame Brusadin’s portrayal is a masterclass in understated poignancy. Through the smallest of expressions and merest of mannerisms, she conveys a wealth of unspoken regret and disillusionment while still clinging to an ill-fated optimism.
The Summer of Princess Diana is a captivating read that navigates some dark issues with sensitivity and a lightness of touch. Reynolds has written an original and absorbing story with a sweetly satisfying ending and a protagonist who, despite her faults, never fails to appeal.
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