Review – Invincible Summer

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Four friends. Twenty years. One unexpected journey. Inseparable throughout college, Eva, Benedict, Sylvie, and Lucien graduate in 1997, into an exhilarating world on the brink of a new millennium. Hopelessly in love with playboy Lucien and eager to shrug off the socialist politics of her upbringing, Eva breaks away to work for a big bank. Benedict, a budding scientist who’s pined for Eva for years, stays on to complete his PhD in physics, devoting his life to chasing particles as elusive as the object of his affection. Siblings Sylvie and Lucien, never much inclined toward mortgages or monogamy, pursue more bohemian existences-she as an aspiring artist and he as a club promoter and professional partyer. But as their twenties give way to their thirties, the group struggles to navigate their thwarted dreams. Scattered across Europe and no longer convinced they are truly the masters of their fates, the once close-knit friends find themselves filled with longing for their youth- and for one another. Broken hearts and broken careers draw the foursome together again, but in ways they never could have imagined.

A dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood, Invincible Summer is a story about finding the courage to carry on in the wake of disappointment, and a powerful testament to love and friendship as the constants in an ever-changing world.

This book ticks a lot of my boxes: multiple friends about to embark on an adventure that is known as adulthood/real life, England (and more importantly London), the summer, university, careers, multiple POVs, and a probably-too-messy-to-draw-a-diagram relationship between four friends. I was super excited to read this book and had high expectations for the story and to see where it would take the Eva, Benedict, Sylvie and Lucien.

I have to applaud Adams for her eclectic cast of characters that range from a variety of backgrounds, both in their attitudes as well as their socioeconomic status. Eva is a capitalist and career woman at heart who comes from a working-class background; Sylvie and Lucien are bohemian free-spirits for a lack of better word who think of the world as their oyster and consequences be damned, while Benedict is the more conservative chap from a decent family. It allows the plot to head into different parts of the world or society and offer some variety in the types of the struggles that each character is trying to overcome. I also really enjoy her writing style; it is very easy to read and I finished the book in two sittings. The POVs change pretty seamlessly in my opinions and the voices are distinct and I never have trouble distinguishing which character is narrating.

There is also something fun watching the characters progress from 1996 to 2016, to spot the various Easter eggs for multiple world events that impacted the 21st century and how the four adults coped with them.  My personal favourite is the 2008 financial crisis—Adams takes an interesting look at the world of finance and tries to give it some detail so any audience can understand what is happening leading up to the crisis and the decadent lifestyle of investment bankers.

However, I did not realize that Invincible Summer follows the format of One Day—the chapter takes place over a short period of time and almost each chapter is a new year, allowing the story to span over twenty years for the four protagonists. This is both interesting and frustrating, as the book is only 320 pages long. I fear that there would not be enough character development or equal exposure for all the characters, and it turns out that I was right to worry about both these issues to at least some degree. While all four characters are POV characters, Eva is undisputedly the main protagonist of this story, not only because she has the most POV chapters but also because the other three characters’ relationships are described almost only exclusively in relation to her. The only sort-of exception is Sylvie and Lucien, and that is because they are siblings, and even their relationship is considered a much reduced subplot compared to everything else. Otherwise each character is best known for their relationship to Eva—Sylvie is the best friend, Benedict is the loyal friend and perhaps something more, and Lucien is the bad boy infatuation.

This does not necessarily mean that the story will suffer; it may bring about a streamlined and narrower focus that serves better storytelling, but not in this case. Adams tries to flesh out all four characters by charting lives for the twenty years, but does not delve heavily into each world that the individual is in. There is hardly any mention of Benedict’s work as a physicist or Lucien as a washed-up party boy and club promoter and the worlds that they occupy except when the “plot” requires it. I would have loved to know more about everyone’s surroundings as it will help better develop their characters but also provide good insight into scenarios that I am unfamiliar with. I was particularly intrigued by Sylvie’s live as she struggles between her inclination/talent for art and trying to meet-ends by taking random jobs to pay the bills. I think that is a very real struggle that many adults are going through and I wished Adams had spent more time with Sylvie to capture more of this emotional and psychological battle within her.

The other issue that I have with the book is how the lives of the four protagonists turned out—it feels like that Adams has a laundry list of various issues that she would like to include to make the characters relatable and going through adulthood and just assigned the various themes to whichever character that seems most relevant. Hence we have some very superficial looks at sex, dating, marriage, career (or the lack of one), drugs, depression, and mid-life crisis. The other thing I found very interesting was how conventional most of the characters’ attitudes are; there are multiple instances where people will head towards marriage because ‘it is the right thing’. It may be because they are in a slightly different time (although frankly, its 1999 or 2000s, hardly the stone age); I thought it was a slightly antiquated view, particularly when there are so many other relationships that could be explored and when some characters’ attitudes don’t even seem like they wish to head down the altar ever in their lives.

While I had trouble connecting with any of the characters or the story in anything more than a superficial level, it was a fun breezy read and I do think that Adams is a decent writer. I just wish that she would be less ambitious about the number of characters and themes that she would include to make the story a bit more impactful and personal. Also, I do also envision this as some sort of mini-series or movie in the future.

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