Review

Love and Summer

by William Trevor

As fans of the 81-year-old author’s 13 other novels
(including the Man Booker-shortlisted THE STORY OF LUCY GAULT) and
12 collections of short stories can attest, William Trevor has made
a long-standing career out of exploring the quiet, melancholic
lives of ordinary, repressed people with past shame to hide and
present secrets to keep. But he does it in such a way that seems
new (albeit slightly short of revelatory) each time.

His latest novel, LOVE AND SUMMER, takes place half a century
ago in the small Irish town of Rathmoye. The residents are simple
folk, many of them farmers, who lead fairly basic lives. Everyone
knows everyone else (and everyone else’s business), and they
rarely venture out beyond the town’s boundaries, let alone to
the nearest city. This type of pristine yet somewhat hermetic
setting is ripe for an interloper, and Trevor’s Florian
Kilderry is not only as unassumingly assuming as they come,
he’s also the perfect shoe-in for a catalyst.

Dressed in a tweed coat, riding into town on a bicycle, Florian
appears on the scene --- the funeral of one of the town’s
revered elders, Mrs. Connulty --- without much fanfare, or so he
thinks. Intending to quickly photograph an old dilapidated cinema
in the town before departing, he minds his business and asks
directions when needed, hoping to blend into the background. But as
anyone from a small town knows, strangers don’t just blend in
--- especially ones with a camera around their neck.

The minute Ellie Dillahan, the wife of a widowed farmer who
accidentally ran over his first wife and child with a tractor years
earlier, sets her gaze on Florian, her life is unalterably
different. “She wondered if she would be the same herself; if
she was no longer --- and would not be again --- the person she was
when she had gone to Mrs. Connulty’s funeral and for all the
time before that.” In true Trevor fashion, this chance
encounter splinters Ellie’s once solid (if complacent) life
into a “before” and an “after,” two bipolar
modes of consciousness that, for her, are now irrevocably
irreconcilable.

For the remainder of the slim book, Trevor unwinds the sad story
of the affair between Ellie and Florian, using spare and restrained
language. Most of the action happens off the page, and whatever
action there is, is contained. Unfortunately for the reader, this
makes for somewhat snoozy reading. What is interesting,
however, is what happens after the summer (and, thus, the affair)
is over.

LOVE AND SUMMER (what a strangely deceptive title) is peppered
with characters who each have their own burden to shoulder.
Ellie’s too-kind husband borders on the pitiful in his
relentless, guilt-ridden suffering. Miss Connulty, the daughter of
the deceased Mrs. Connulty, comes off as unnecessarily bitter and
cold --- but she has her skeleton in the closet, too. And Orpen
Wren, the nattering old man who is half off his rocker with a head
stuck in the past, seems downright creepy.

Is LOVE AND SUMMER a joy to read? Not by a long shot. It’s
not that engrossing, either. But there’s something quietly
moving and slightly unsettling about what little Trevor’s
characters are left with at the end of the story --- and that
situation, a possibility for all of us, is what sticks with
you.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 6, 2011

Love and Summer
by William Trevor

  • Publication Date: October 26, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143117882
  • ISBN-13: 9780143117889