Summer Lies by Bernard Schlink

Many of the seven short stories in ‘Summer Lies’ are focused on middle-aged men who love their routines and careers and are hesitant about the women who threaten to take them out of their comfort zone.

In ‘After the Season’ we find Richard and Susan involved in a holiday romance which becomes complicated once Richard tries to picture Susan as part of his normal life, a change which may not be welcome. Another story in the collection sees the main character, consumed by a need to preserve his idea of idyllic family life to extremes which border on madness. A philosophy professor declines to tell his wife and family that he is dying of cancer. He feels he has planned his last days, surrounded by family and friends but he is unable to control their reactions once his secret is revealed. A father and son attempt to reconnect on a trip to a music festival and although both experience moving moments, these are not shared. The only story told from a female point of view sees a much loved grandmother frustrated and puzzled about choices she has made in her life. A reunion organised by her granddaughter forces her to see the past in a different light.

Each story in ‘Summer Lies’ sees Schlink’s characters grow and change even if they are unsure of what it is they would truly like to do. They seek change but also wish to cling on to what they know and love. These stories are broodingly atmospheric, capturing fleeting emotions. His characters are not always likeable but they are always interesting which provided ample material for a lively discussion within the group. Beautifully written in a direct, unsentimental manner- I’ve already ordered ‘The Reader’.

Pat Mutton