Friday, November 12, 2010

Love and Summer

By William Trevor
New York, Viking, 2009

Week 46 Fiction

I am always amazed when an author comes into view that I know nothing about—such is the case with William Trevor, an Irish author of great renown, 82 years old. I first learned of Love and Summer in the pages of Bookmarks Magazine, where all the reviewers gave the book highest marks.

This is a small book—only 224 pages—about a small place in Ireland during a much simpler time—the late 1950s. One might consider the characters quite ordinary small town people, yet they all have complex life histories, and the plot, while quiet and contemplative, is also thick and dense.

The characters are those that you would expect in a small town, the businessman, the nosy busybody, the local character, the cleric, the farmer with a tragic past, the innocent young woman, and the stranger in the village. One would expect that these characters would collide and interact; this is the nature of pastoral-type novels. Yet, Trevor fills these characters with so much longing, so much loneliness, and, as one reviewer suggests, so much hope, that this book is compelling and enlightening. The New York Times reviewer says “(Trevor)…has somehow turned the nondescript and the habitual into the exceptionally vivid and particular.”

I especially liked the character of Miss Connulty, the “spinster” who has just inherited the local boarding house. She is a deeply unhappy, unfulfilled woman who sees all and knows all. Yet she, like all the characters in the book, has a past. She had an affair as a young woman with a salesman who boarded at their house. She became pregnant and went to a distant city to have the baby, who was then adopted. She sees the young wife Ellie meet up with the young stranger in town, Florian, and instinctively knows that there will be trouble. She tries to warn Ellie that no good is going to come from their meeting by telling Ellie, “Love is a madness.” But in a stroke of genius on the part of the author, Miss Connulty does not expose the lovers, as one would expect, but makes plans to pick up the pieces and save Ellie when the affair falls apart, as she knows it will.

By the time the simple plot moves to its inevitable climax, the reader has so much invested in the characters that there is no stopping—it has to be read in one sitting. Once done, there is a big sigh as you realize that you have just finished a masterpiece with no grand finale, no conclusion, but just life at its richest.

I lived in a very small town for 18 years and these characters ring very true for small town living, where much of life is in the details. One reviewer says: “He (Trevor) makes the ordinary come alive through rich details accompanying everyday habits.” There can be a great deal of comfort in small town living that comes from knowing your neighbors very well, knowing their habits and their circumstances. What is not comfortable about small town life is that your neighbors know you very well, your habits and your circumstances. But the characters in Love and Summer draw their strength from the sense of community, and for all their sadness and longing, this is where they want to be.

William Trevor has been called one of the finest prose stylists writing today. Other books in his lexicon include, The Story of Lucy Gault, Death in Summer, Fools of Fortune, and Cheating at Canasta, a highly acclaimed collection of short stories.

Here is a review in the Washington Post:

An interview from the BBC:

The New York Times has a list of resources about the author. Very helpful:

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