Slow Reads - August

Gerard Woodward's August, published in 2001 in the UK, is our August Slow Reads recommendation.

By Patricia Bochi

For the last month of our summer escape, we travel across the Pond to England and Wales, with Gerard Woodward’s novel August.

Gerard Woodward (1961-) is an English poet and novelist whose work explores issues of domesticity and family relations.

August is the first book in a trilogy (I’ll Go to Bed at Noon and Curious Earth). It was published in 2001 in the UK and 2008 in the US, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book Award.



August follows the Jones family, who leave their London home to pitch a tent in the same field, in Wales, every August, from 1955 to 1970. In relating the trials and tribulations of the Jones family, the novel captures in their nuances the highs and lows, the quirks and the growing pains of the family as both an entity, a clan and as individuals.


“Gerard Woodward’s first novel … explore[s] the history of one family’s development over 15 years (1955 to 1970). The Joneses are a passionate crew, and the tale follows their changing relationships with themselves and their chosen place of summer sanctuary – a tent in a luscious field on the foothills of Wales.”

“Changes, internal or external, however, are not always desirable. While the Joneses are keen to note minor alterations on the farm where they plant themselves – new fences, new cow-houses, even new shops – they are also keen to return to a paradise of continuity where the sense of being together as a happy family unit is reiterated and renewed.”

“As the years pass, however, there is a deepening sense in each of the clan that, like the metaphorical seasons of one’s life, this type of summer retreat needs to be outgrown. ‘If it [heaven] went on for ever, paradise, then it would never change. If it never changed there would never be any need to remember it.’”

“August might sound like a depressing romp through the murkier side of a dysfunctional family holiday, but it is a striking and impressive work and a rare find among first novels. Woodward, an award-winning poet, has a precise talent for creating a vivid collage of landscape and people, and he paints them against a subtle, but not intrusive, backdrop of a post-war Britain emerging into the chaos of the Sixties.”

(Selina Mills, The Observer, Saturday 4 August 2001)

“The novel differs from most other studies of dysfunctional families because the writing is so compelling–filled with thoughtful descriptions, unique imagery, and careful observations, every word perfect. And even though the focus is firmly domestic, without much focus on the world at large (except as the family represents universal problems of all families), Woodward wields his pen like a stiletto, cutting to the quick and exposing the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters, often with dark humor.”

(Mary Whipple, Mostly Fiction Book Reviews, February 17, 2009)

“… the bulk of August is a study of what makes the everyday (albeit, somewhat twisted) extraordinary. He achieves this through a meticulous attention to detail that never wanes, be it descriptions of the Wales countryside and mountains, the neighborhood where the Joneses live in London, the social interactions on the August holidays or the trials and tribulations that occur inside any family with four offspring.”

(KevinfromCanada blog, March 11, 2012)

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