Thursday, August 20, 2009

Love and Summer by William Trevor (a review)

Love and Summer: A Novel
5 out of 5: In this slim novel, the fourteenth from Irish author William Trevor, an illicit love affair develops in a provincial Irish town in the 1950s. The story unfolds slowly through shifting points of view, including that of the two lovers and other townspeople, the perspective often so close we feel we’re inside the characters’ minds. With constrained prose hinting at hidden depths of meaning, Trevor gracefully weaves together multiple view points. The effect is truly brilliant, calling to mind Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Like Woolf’s classic, Love and Summer is a masterpiece of narrative structure.

The past haunts the characters populating this novel, whether it’s an aborted fetus, a tragic accident, a childhood love, or a once grand estate. Indeed, one mentally unstable character actually lives in the past, believing his wealthy employers to still need his services although the family departed decades ago. Trevor’s prose reflects this ever-present haunting. Everything “was done” or “had been.” About a person, it is said, “Her night was spent there,” about a dog, “Jessie she was called,” and about a nun, “Sister Agnes the geography nun had been.” Scattered throughout the novel, these inverted sentences impart an atmosphere of plaintive passivity. Trevor’s characters wallow in the murky swamp of their past regrets, never to break free and live a life filled with action verbs. A moving and beautifully told love story.

4 comments:

Zibilee said...

This sounds like a great book. I am going to be taking a better look at it, and probably putting it on my wish list. Very nice review!

Diane said...

Such a wonderful review. This is one book that I am waiting for --my kind of book. Thanks

An Anonymous Child said...

It seems quite interesting but I can also see how the "was done"s might begin to annoy at some point. I suppose it could go either way, though the story does sound fairly intriguing.

Michael said...

I'm inclined to disagree completely. Firstly I found – and perhaps, being Irish, it's because I've been so exposed to it – that Trevor's new work relies on what many an Irish author falsely assumes to be an indefatigable setting: the sleepy rural town planted squarely somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century. How refreshing would it be if we were to move into the twenty-first century and dispell this sepia romanticised image of bygone Ireland!

The romance I found to be implausible. After mere sightings and the briefest of conversations, Ellie proclaims she is in love with Florian, a declaration leaving me agape, the only possible excuse being some form of projection of unfulfilled childhood fantasies of what love should look like (half-Italian, it seems).

I admit that the book is not without its merits - Ellie's marriage to Mr Dillahan, for example, is a very delicately portrayed rapport based not on love but on a mutual kindness and politeness, seeming as though they never quite got beyond their former relationship as master and house help. Miss Connulty, too, though only a cameo, is an interesting presence in the book and her backstory of abandonment, abortion and lack of maternal love was touching and masterful. A character who might step in and tear apart (the artificially brought together...) Ellie and Florian turns out instead to be, as one critic put it, the safety net for Ellie when the romance fails, advising her with love and wisdom of her past experiences.

However, throughout much of the book it felt as though, as a reader, I was being led. Trevor grabs you by the nose and pulls you along, leaving nothing to the imagination, instead stating every advancement lest it pass you by.

The shifting from character to character was not always smoothly effected, seeming sometimes jarring when done at the wrong moment.

And, finally, it seemed to me that many of the characters were shadows of other characters in the same book - how many of them were haunted by figures from their past? Florian had Isabella, Miss Connulty had the lodger, Orpen Wren (an absurd and unrealistic character) had the St. Johns, Mr Dillahan had his wife and child... etc.

I was disappointed to see this book on the Man Booker longlist.

It's interesting to hear your opposite point of view on the book though, which was expressed wonderfully, though I'd question the comparison to Mrs. Dalloway which, in my esteem, is a far superior book.