Review copy received from the publisher for an honest review.
Do you have memories of long careless summer days when you were young? I certainly do, as I’m sure many of us do. The Last Kings of Sark is a novel about such a summer – and how those days can leave a lingering taint over subsequent years – making you want to go back to those youthful golden days.
“My name is Jude. And because of Law, Hey and the Obscure, they thought I was a boy.
Not even a boy. A young man, and someone who could teach their son. I was none of these things, apart from young. But a merchant banker called Edward Defoe flew me out to Sark on a private plane together with frozen meat and three crates of Badoit, and that’s how it started”
Jude is hired by wealthy Eddy Defoe to tutor his teenage son over the summer at their home on the tiny carless Channel Island of Sark. Flying into Guernsey as no planes are allowed to land on Sark, or fly over it blow a certain height, Jude travels by ferry to the island, and into another world, the last place to abolish feudalism, and into a summer that will change everything for her. Jude is twenty-one, herself from a privileged background of public school and St Andrews University. Jude’s pupil; Pip is awkward, determined he doesn’t need a tutor, while his painfully thin mother Esmѐ remains mostly upstairs her presence throwing a pall over the household. Also helping out in the Defoe house that summer is Sofi – Polish by way of Ealing, she is an exuberant nineteen year old, hired as cook and general dogsbody. Sofi’s cooking leaves rather a lot to be desired as does her hygiene standards – she sings to herself, cycles quickly through the pitch dark lanes of Sark, sleeps naked, and initially hates Jude. However the two are thrown together quite literally as they are both to share a small twin bedded room at Bonita’s – more a private house with gnomes in the garden than a hotel.
When Eddy leaves on business for a few weeks, summer really begins the three of them enjoying a wonderful golden freedom. Pip’s lessons are replaced by scallop smuggling with the Czech boys, rosѐ and afternoons on the beach. All good things of course must come to an end, and summer never lasts for long. Just a few days before Jude is due to leave, Eddy returns with his brother Caleb and his four teenage sons. Immediately the atmosphere changes sharply. Just like the sudden chill that can descend following a blistering hot day at the beach, leaving goosebumps over your skin, the tension in the house becomes palpable. Suddenly Sofi is not so sure of herself; she doesn’t understand the world of these boorish arrogant sexist males, a world Jude seems more able to adapt to. Planning to spend one last golden day together, Jude, Sofi and Pip are thwarted by the weather, a sudden storm brewing means that Jude will need to leave by the ferry that day. Sofi and Pip travel to Guernsey with Jude to say goodbye, and what happens between them in their last few hours together will make itself felt across the years that follow in Paris, Normandy and London. Naturally they make promises as they part, promising to meet at the Eifel Tower in Paris.
“As long as it ends where is began, with leaves, and light coming through them. With the sun. Sun on Pip, and sun on Sofi. The sun on all of us, when we were young, when we were kings.”
This coming of age novel of sexual awakenings and reminiscence of golden summers and lost youth is told in several ways. The first longest section of the book set in Sark is narrated by Jude, Rankin-Gee’s luminous prose and vibrant descriptions of Sark make for great reading. The second part of the book is narrated in a variety of voices, as the three friends move forward in life to different parts of Europe. The summer in Sark has left its mark, but those are days that can never be returned to. Things have changed, the world is a darker place – like those squally autumn days when summer has really finished; life is filled with responsibility, disappointment and even death.
The Last Kings of Sark is an excellent first novel, from an author I look forward to reading again in the future. If I am being totally honest I did greatly prefer the first section of the novel, but the ending comes together beautifully with a lovely sense of time having passed, and the poignancy of looking back at a time that felt perfect.