Love and Summer by William Trevor

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Love and Summer by William Trevor

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: A young farmer's wife embarks on an affair in rural 1950s Ireland with unanticipated consequences. Exploring themes of love and escape, the novel develops into a climax that approaches the perfection of Trevor's short stories.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670918249

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Love and Summer is set in the small town of Rathmoye in a rural Ireland 'some years after the middle of the last century'. The novel charts the doomed love affair between Ellie, a young farmer's wife, and Florian, the Irish-Italian son of two artists, but it as much about the place and time in which it is set.

Rathmoye is a town where 'its people said nothing happened', and the novel opens with a funeral. A tightly-knit community is described. Everybody knows everybody else. But a stranger stands out, a young man with a suggestion of stylishness is surreptitiously photographing the funeral scene. Florian Kilderry catches the eye of Ellie Dillahan, who sets to wondering about him.

Florian is trying photography because he has failed at everything else he has tried. His recently deceased parents have left him a large house and considerable debts, and he is planning to sell up and escape. He thinks he will go to Scandinavia, but is more than happy to first spend the summer in a series of secret rendezvous with Ellie.

For Ellie, though, this is more than a simple summer romance. She is an innocent, a foundling brought up by nuns and sent to Dillahan's farm as a general maid after the farmer's wife and child were killed in a farmyard accident. There had been a gradual transition from maid to housekeeper to second wife without any mention of love, but she was not dissatisfied with her situation. Until Florian came into her life, and she could suddenly see new possibilities.

As Trevor slowly unfolds this love story, we learn more of the characters who will each play their own part in the unexpected climax. There is, off stage, Isabella, Florian's Italian cousin with whom he fell in love as a child and who now haunts his dreams and prevents him from enjoying anything more than a dalliance with other girls. There is Dillahan, the quiet, hard-working farmer Ellie is married to, a man still struggling with the grief and guilt of his first wife's death. There is old Orpen Wren, a man whose failing, jumbled memory helps him confuse Florian for a son of the family he once worked for. And there is Miss Connulty, a woman with a terrible secret of her own.

The writing is everything you would expect of William Trevor, and his characters are as always beautifully realised. I suspect the slow early pace may be the reason why the novel didn't make it onto the Booker short list. But as all the various strands began to come together I found I could not put the book down. And the quality of the prose seems to rise to the occasion. The final third of the book is almost perfect, and the ending is somehow both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. I suspect it will live with me for some time.

Although Love and Summer may not be Trevor's best novel, it is nevertheless a recommended read, if only for the perfectly-pitched ending.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestions: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

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