An effortlessly crafted snapshot of youth’s bittersweet confusion, That Summer Feeling, based around a young man standing at an emotional cross-roads in his life, is both earnest and engaging.
“When “That Summer Feeling” that filled you up so joyously and brilliantly before, is just a cold autumn memory of tortured nostalgia”
Mark Hodkinson steals the title for his undoubtedly semi-autobiographical book, from the Jonathan Richman song, about a feeling about the year’s supposedly happiest season. That affecting time of year that always had to end. Just like Richman’s song, Hodkinson’s book is about nostalgia, the changing of the tides in a young man’s life. When “That Summer Feeling” that filled you up so joyously and brilliantly before, is just a cold autumn memory of tortured nostalgia.
That Summer Feeling situates itself in 2004 following a 20s would-be-writer in the midst of the throws of life. He’s having doubts about his University course, his relationship teeters on the edge and his young nephew is threatened by illness.
“What we are presented with is the reality of a young student lost in so many ways”
Hodkinson’s main character, though unnamed, is a critical examination of the mind of a young man, plagued by self-doubt and blinded by the immediacies of one’s youth. The author takes time to unpack our central character’s psyche, his thoughts on love, monogamy and judgement of his small-town group of friends. The unnamed and often unreliable narrator is both at times endearing whilst at others deeply unlikeable, yet this is perhaps the story’s greatest strength. What we are presented with is the reality of a young student lost in so many ways.
The novel is not just a pointed study of youth however, it also deals with a hot boiled concoction of gravely human themes. Threat is the most dominant, with the narrator constantly under threat from something- be it emotional warfare with his girlfriend, the illness of his nephew or the dramatic wrath of his University lecturer’s latest breakdown.
“Their frustration provides a modicum of humour down to its relatability for anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve lingered too long in a small town”
Confinement is also heavily explored by Hodkinson. The narrator and his group of friends feel suppressed by the grey-grey buildings and familiar faces of their Northern hometown. They want a bigger world, with new stories and different girls. Their frustration provides a modicum of humour down to its relatability for anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve lingered too long in a small town.
For our narrator, University is his escape, but even this leaves him feeling a little hot around the collar. Still it’s a short-term fix from his most prominent entrapment- a stuffy, overrun relationship that’s developed into more of a series of emotional skirmishes. Their dynamic is a situation perhaps reminiscent of too many University students, who prolong an inevitably doomed relationship both parties know isn’t strong enough to survive significant strain.
The complexities of the emotions stretched out across the loose connection of characters in Hodkinson’s story are explored through the author’s assured and measured prose. He doesn’t over explain to his audience, often posing question back at his reader, inviting inner reflection through his 200-page character study. The only major blight is the author’s mid 2000s setting. It feels cheap and needless; a few references are made to Blair or the debut of a new programme called Strictly Come Dancing but other than the story could just as easily be set today or two years from now.
“That Summer Feeling is a brilliantly human book”
Still, on the whole That Summer Feeling is a brilliantly human book. It marks a perfect read for any student, summing up the aimlessness of a person’s early 20’s effortlessly. Equal parts poignant and engaging, Hodkinson performs magic in transforming the mundane into something raw and moving.
Featured Image courtesy of Ponoma via Amazon.