Love and Summer--William Trevor

I had only recently become acquainted with William Trevor in the form of The Hill Bachelors when I recommended reading this to the small book group I am part of.  One of those book group members stops by often, and so I must be very careful with what I say and how so as not to ruin any of the book for her.  However, that shouldn't be too difficult because this is not so much a book run by plot and story as it is a book suffused through and through with character and individual history.

Love and Summer is the story of a young married woman who discovers the thrill of being in love for the first time--with a man not her husband.  In the hands of lesser writers, we would have had far too many intimate details of this liaison.  But Trevor is less interested in the details of the affair than in the details of the lives of the people involved.  In the course of this short history, we learn about the past of at least six characters--the lovers, her husband, a brother and a sister and an unrelated old man, all of whom play critical roles in the story.

Our young lady, Ellie,  has been persuaded to marry a farmer in rural Ireland and has lived with him for some time when she encounters her young lover, Florian.  At first he is an oddity in town, taking pictures in places that no one else can see the interest in.  But Ellie finds him interesting and attractive. In meeting him, she sees a new light on her relationship with her husband, a quiet man traumatized and held bound by a tragedy in his past.  So too, both Elli and Florian are bound to and held, in some regards, prisoners of their respective pasts.  The old man mentioned above, Orpen Wren, lives only in the past, seemingly incapable of seeing the present.  And the brother and sister, the Connulty's, are likewise shaped and imprisoned by the past. 

More than in the short stories, perhaps because there is greater length to expand upon a theme, Mr. Trevor is able again and again to remind us how we are shaped, molded, and in some ways managed by our past experiences--whether chosen or forced upon us, they change us and make us the people we become.  Fighting against the past is like wrestling the ocean, there may be momentary satisfaction in the actual tumult and trial, but no real victory.  What we must learn to do is to come to terms with it.  And in coming to terms, we shape our future choices.  All elements spelled out beautifully here.

Mr. Trevor also helps us understand the many faces of love.  When Ellie takes up her affair with Florian, it is because she realizes that there has been in her relationship with her husband a lack of an emotional engagement.  Her husband is neither distant nor uncaring, but the two were not "made for each other."  Ellie interprets this to mean that she has not been in love.  But Mr. Trevor shows us otherwise in the small actions and the little turns she takes--the climax of this being the culminating conversation between Ellie and her husband as they talk past one another and yet end up coming to terms.

The book is skillfully wrought and written in a way that makes for compelling but gentle reading.  I couldn't help but think of a more refined Angela Thirkell, or a more meaningful and focused Jan Karon.  The same gentleness with all of the characters, whether deserving or not, the same sense of place, the same pervasive sense of personal history informs this book.  Of course Mr. Trevor is in a league all his own, but reading his books is a welcome respite from the onslaught of many books of the modern era.  It's good to be reminded from time to time that we are not completely free agents--what we have chosen in the past shapes who we are and what we are capable of in the present.

***** HIghly recommended


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