Thursday, November 26, 2009
Book Review - Love and Summer by William Trevor
Whenever I pick up a new book by William Trevor, whether it’s a novel or a collection of short stories, I have to admit, I’m prejudiced. William Trevor is my favorite author. I know I’m bound to love whatever he writes. And, I loved his newest book, the 2009 Booker longlisted novel Love and Summer.
Love and Summer takes place in the quiet Irish village of Rathmoye in the mid-1950s and revolves around Ellie Dillahan, a young girl who was raised by nuns in an orphanage. When Love and Summer opens, Ellie, who left the orphanage to keep house for a lonely widower she later married, is seen by the town gossip, the middle-aged Miss Connulty, talking to a strange young man who, we later learn, is Florian Kilderry.
Florian, although a stranger in Rathmoye, grew up only seven miles from the town. Now, with both his parents dead, Florian, who’s always been a master dilettante, wants only to sell their once lovely manor house and leave Ireland behind forever. But until that happens, there’s the summer and there’s Ellie.
For Florian, the gorgeous, sultry summer begins as a dalliance, for Ellie, it’s an awakening, leading her to a revelation and a choice she never thought possible. Central to this revelation is Dillahan, Ellie’s husband. Dillahan has been a kind husband, but one whose life is still consumed by a tragic loss he suffered years before, a loss for which he unjustly blames himself. His union with Ellie has been a quiet one, one of friendship and mutual respect rather than passion.
Slowly, as summer progresses, Florian and Ellie become closer. Their romance, however, isn’t as secret as they want it to be – or believe it to be. Unknown to the lovers, Miss Connulty – when she isn’t arguing with her brother, with whom she shares a love/hate relationship – watches from behind lace curtains, fingering the jewels she inherited from her recently deceased mother and remembering the long ago day her own father took her to Dublin – a day that causes her to form an unusual bond with Ellie Dillahan.
But Love and Summer is more than the story of Florian and Ellie and Dillahan and Miss Connulty. It’s also the story of Rathmoye, itself. Trevor has woven the tapestry of the entire village into Ellie Dillahan’s summer awakening. At first, we may feel as thought we’re looking at the tapestry from the wrong side, but Trevor is such a masterful and assured writer, that by the time we finish the book, though questions remain, we know all is as it should be.
Love and Summer is a gentle, delicate, almost fragile novel. This is vintage Trevor, writing beautiful, incandescent, and totally assured prose. Every sentence seems to be a sentence that’s needed; every word seems to be the best one Trevor could have chosen. And just when we think the master couldn’t get any better, he tops himself. Consider this sentence, which comes near the end of the book:
They sing in their heads a song they mustn’t sing, and wonder who it is who doesn’t want them.
The characters, too, are beautifully composed, not only Florian and Ellie, but Dillahan, Miss Connulty, her brother, the local priest, and even the strange and strangely amusing Orpen Wren, a man who sees all, yet knows nothing and offers a sadly comic note to an otherwise elegiac novel. Like all of the people who inhabit Trevor’s books, the people of Rathmoye are ordinary people, yet Trevor delves so deeply into their soul that they become extraordinary. They, like Love and Summer, become unforgettable.
Note: Love and Summer was longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, marking the fourth time a work by William Trevor has been either long- or shortlisted.
Recommended: Definitely, especially to those who enjoy highly literary writing at its finest.