The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
by Kelly O’Connor McNees

This book explores the fictional romantic life of Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. I’ve read a few books in this vein and some are better than others. We, as readers, tend to be fascinated with the private lives of authors, especially when they’re shrouded in mystery.

This book has a bad case of Darcyitis in my opinion. What, you’re a strong-willed female who’s met a man who is insufferable? How awful! Hark, he’s not what he seemed at first and you might be falling for him? Totally unexpected!

Let me be clear, I didn’t dislike this book; I actually enjoyed most of it. I think my main problem with it was that I felt like I’ve read many similar books. I also grew up loving Little Women and this didn’t add to that love, it kind of detracted from it.

I loved Louisa’s strong will in the book, but not her stubborn pride and rude attitude. She refuses to listen when someone wants to explain themselves, she’s sometimes a real jerk to her sisters, and she thinks she’s better than everyone else because she’s a writer.


We’re supposed to be invested in the love story, but to me it made Louisa appear wishy-washy, which contradicted her otherwise strong personality. She wanted the man, but then she didn’t, but then she did, but not if that meant she had to marry him and give up her freedom. It’s hard to care about the relationship when it wasn’t her priority. I don’t think it’s bad, AT ALL, that it wasn’t her priority, I just didn’t want to read about the romance part. I get that man or writing is a hard decision, but I’d rather read about her time as a single woman writing in Boston and making a name for herself.

Also, I could be mistaken, but I couldn’t find a single thing online that indicates Louisa’s older sister Anna had a beau that died, only that she met and married someone, just like Meg did in Little Women. If that’s the case, then it seems McNees just took Jane Austen’s sister’s story, killing off the author’s sister’s man before they have a chance to marry.


In the end, I think I would have enjoyed this more if it was a historical fiction book that had nothing to do with Alcott. Actually I would have enjoyed reading a real biography of the author more than anything. I think her life was fascinating, but I didn’t like having to guess what was fact and what was fiction. I will say that this has made me re-read Little Women, but I can’t connect the Louisa in this with the one who wrote that sweet story.

“Anticipation bent her like an archer’s bow.”


Mumsy said...

Little Women was my first fictional love - I read it at least 25 times the first year I owned it. So I think this would charm me not at all. But I loved your idea of making it straight fiction, with Alcott-like characters. And I like your insight about not caring about the relationship because the character herself doesn't care enough. bingo!

*ೃ༄ Jillian said...

Currently reading! I didn't read your spoilers above, but otherwise I have to say I agree with all of your points. It's an enjoyable read, but...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Mumsy - I really need to re-read Little Women now. I've been thinking about it so much since finishing this book.

Jillian - Exactly.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

My daughter and I are reading Little Women together. It's been slow going since I'm doing it aloud!
I read this last summer, and remember enjoying it...but it certainly wasn't grand literature, and very typical of the "famous person turned historical fiction" genre as of late.

nomadreader said...

I really liked this one, but I was not a fan of Little Women and knew very little about Alcott's life. I can see how that would make it less enjoyable for you. I was fascinated by how little was known about that summer!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Like I said when we met for lunch, I am a Little Women idiot, so I had no baggage coming into this novel and I loved it. Also loved the audio, as the narrator is extremely talented.

BookQuoter said...

This is one review that really tempted me to read the spoiler... but I held off, who knows, I might read it someday:)

Allie said...

This is one of those books I feel I need to stay away from. I love Little Women and Alcott, so why would I want to read a fictionalized account of her life? There are a few great biographies, so I would lean towards those more than someone else's imaginings.

I see a lot of this sort of thing with Austen as well. Why do we insist on creating these false realities?

Anyway, I do have March on my shelf, which isn't really the same thing, right? Have you read that one?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Melissa Mc – That’s awesome! You’re daughter will remember that experience forever. It’s so special to share the first reading of a classic like that.

nomadreader – Maybe that’s the key, if you loved Little Women, avoid this, if you didn’t then you’re safe to read it.

Sandy Nawrot – I do think I might have liked it more if I knew less about the original work and author. I did love the narrator though. I had no idea she was Orson Scott Card’s daughter! I’m loving her on the Revolution audio right now.

BookQuoter – If you do read it you’ll have to tell me what you think. A lot of people love it.

Allie – I have read March and it really worked for me. Unlike some other “fan fiction” books, that one didn’t try to continue the stories of the characters we loved (Jo, Laurie, etc.) it explored and untold story (the father) and that felt fresh to me.

p.s. There are a ton of these kinds of books that deal with Austen’s work. I don’t know why people can’t just leave it alone.

Vaishnavi said...

I am a huge fan of Little Women and there are so many times when I almost picked this one up but didn't. Incorrect portrayals of authors irritate me and I didn't want a bad experience with this particular author. Still, I may give this a try. Thanks for sharing :)

LindyLouMac said...

I am also a life long fan of Little women so was interested to see this review come up in my Google reader. However thanks to your review I think I can safely give this title a miss Melissa.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Vaishnavi – You’ll have to let me know what you think if you end up reading it.

LindyLouMac – I think re-reading Little Women would be more fun.