Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

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Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: Four Bristol University friends navigate the highs and lows of life in the 20 years following graduation. As in One Day, the narrative checks in on the characters nearly every summer. Compared to some other similar recent novels, this debut somewhat lacks sparkle.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Picador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781509814701

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As Alice Adams's debut novel opens in the summer of 1995, four university friends are lounging on Bristol's Brandon Hill, drinking and contemplating what the future holds. There's Eva Andrews, raised in Sussex by a single father; siblings Sylvie and Lucien Marchant, neglected by their alcoholic mother; and Benedict Waverley, a rich kid whose parents have a holiday home on Corfu. Eva has a crush on Lucien, while Benedict is besotted with Eva.

Two years later, the friends have just finished their exams and are getting ready to go their separate ways: Benedict will start a PhD in physics, Sylvie and Lucien plan to travel in India, and Eva has a traineeship lined up at a City bank. 'Doesn't it drive you insane sometimes, not knowing how it's all going to turn out? Like, literally anything could happen,' Sylvie asks Lucien. 'It's only temporary, all of this, though, isn't it? Everyone scattering to the four winds,' she asks, trying to convince herself that the four of them will be back together soon.

But, as happens in real life, even the closest friends gradually drift apart. Although the friends meet up occasionally, sometimes at club nights Lucien hosts in London and once to hike the Santiago de Compostela, their lives take very different directions. Eva becomes a prosperous Canary Wharf banker with a personal trainer boyfriend, while Sylvie is the proverbial starving artist. Benedict marries a fellow PhD student and moves to Switzerland. Meanwhile Lucien, the least well developed of the central characters, lets drug use get the better of him.

As in One Day, the narrative checks in on the characters nearly every summer. The format is not as strict as in Nicholls's novel, though; sometimes Adams skips a year or two, and some of the chapters are set in March or November rather than the summer months. Still, the idea is the same: every year or so we catch up with the main characters and have to quickly work out what has happened since the previous chapter. Job situations and relationships change, and external events like the financial collapse of 2008 also take a toll.

There is sometimes a sense of life just happening to the characters against their will. I liked how Sylvie's grandmother puts everything into perspective, though: 'If you want things to be different then you will have to be different, because the city, the people, they won't have changed.' Instead of blaming circumstances, the characters have to learn how to change their experience by changing themselves for the better.

Especially when it comes to Eva and Benedict's on-again, off-again, will they/won't they relationship, this novel reminded me very much of One Day. In its focus on the challenges a group of university friends face, it is also reminiscent of Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma, a much better book overall. Invincible Summer might get its title from an Albert Camus quote, but it struck me as clichéd in places. The chapters about Eva's career can slip into jargon, and elsewhere the writing just isn't all that interesting. Comparatively lacking in sparkle, this is one debut that doesn't quite live up to the hype.

Further reading suggestion: If this sounds appealing, you might also try One Day by David Nicholls and Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma.

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