The Dead of Summer
Camilla Way, Harper Collins
Book Two in my Great Greenwich Fiction Readathon, The Dead of Summer is the most recent novel set here – it’s only just out. I read an interview with Camilla Way in The Guide (the only local mag I have much time for) and thought she looked interesting. From this, her debut novel, I’d say she probably is.
Set in the long, hot summer of 1986, The Dead of Summer is the story of three misfit pre-teenagers – the mercurial, dangerous, Kyle and his loyal followers, fat, slow Dennis, and “skint paki” Anita, through whose eyes the story unfolds. Right at the beginning, where, some years later, Anita is recounting the story to her doctor, we realise that something went very badly wrong that summer “There were four of us, now there’s only one.” We know that some terrible event will happen before the end of the book, but I challenge anyone, even up to the last chapter, to work out what that event will be.
There is a heavy sense of foreboding through the heat and the dry sunshine of Greenwich Park, the chlorine stench of The Arches swimming pool, the steep slog of Point Hill – even on the bus from Brockley (where the kids actually live.) As we follow the unstable Kyle and his two cohorts through the park, looking for the tunnels under the hills (yes – you know the rule – if there’s a book set in Greenwich it MUST include a reference to the tunnels under Greenwich Park…) we begin to feel that not everything is right or even particularly wholesome in any of the children’s lives.
There are a couple of really chilling moments, though I’m not going to give you any spoilers here. But in a Wasp-Factory-esque, Curious Incident of the Dog-ish sort of way, expect not to get what’s going on until it’s far, far too late.
In the Guide interview, Camilla Way says she was a magazine sub-editor, which to some extent explains why this book keeps its taut, flat, emotionless tone throughout – she is the person that cuts the fat out of other people’s writing, so presumably she’s quite good at editing-out her own flabby material, sticking to the story in hand (Ironically, I did notice at least one typo in the interview. Tut, Guide subs – you’ll never get a book published now…)
This is not a long read. But The Dead of Summer’s bitter taste lingers long after the last page…