Not much happens in R.C. Sherriff's "The Fortnight in September," and that quietness is part of the novel's immense charm.
The English seaside town of Bognar Regis is where the Stevens family always spends their late-summer vacation, swimming, eating, chatting, strolling the promenade, playing games in the arcade.
But this time there is an unspoken sense that it might be the last such vacation. Dick, the older son, now works in London, and as we peek into his brain we see him tussling with the problem of his future career. Mary, the daughter, falls briefly in love and breaks with family tradition by spending holiday time with a new friend. And Ernest, the youngster, is growing up quickly.
First published in 1931 and republished this month by Scribner, this novel is a captivating read. The detached tone and shifting point of view keep it from falling into melancholy. The family members are decent and hardworking, good souls. Every one of them has a secret, but they are the ordinary kind of secrets — disappointment in work, dreams of romance, a hidden desire for solitude.
The end of summer is always bittersweet, and as the weeks unfold and the light grows shorter, you get the sense that time is running out.
While there is no hint yet of World War II on the horizon — that is still a decade away — as the family packs up their sandy and sodden clothes and heads for the train, there is cheerful talk of returning next summer, but it's not entirely convincing; even the characters, it seems, can faintly feel the winds of change.