Sunday, August 30, 2009

Love and Summer by William Trevor: review

William Trevor’s strangely uplifting tale of a faltering love affair deserves to secure the author the Booker Prize

By Lorna Bradbury, The Telegraph, 29 Aug 2009

In this era when we worship youth, it might be said of William Trevor that he is a glorious exception to the rule that writers are at their best when they are young. Even their greatest defenders wouldn’t say that Martin Amis or Philip Roth have in later life come close to anything they achieved in their thirties.
But at the age of 81, Trevor, quietly, steadily, deep in the Devon countryside, produces books that are as consistently brilliant as his first novel, The Old Boys (1964), described at the time by Evelyn Waugh as “uncommonly well written, gruesome, funny and original”.

And if there is no diminution in the quality of the writing, there has been no let-up in quantity either; in the last decade there have been three volumes of stories as well as a novel, The Story of Lucy Gault, all of which are marked by wit and originality, and a chiselled, simple style.
Though the range of his stories is broad, taking in many of the more shocking aspects of modern life (from a serial killer in Felicia’s Journey to sexual abuse in Death in Summer), they are as recognisably his as are those of Alice Munro or of Raymond Carver.

Trevor has carved out a distinct landscape, which he returns to time and again: that of a largely vanished rural Ireland, similar to the one in which he grew up. It is a landscape marked by shame, fear, regret; the quiet desperation of lives marred by tragedy and the overwhelming burdens of the past.
Love and Summer, his 14th novel, is set in the small fictional town of Rathmoye in the Fifties and describes the faltering love affair one summer between Ellie, a foundling brought up by nuns and delivered as a housekeeper and later wife to a local farmer, and a young man, Florian, the son of two recently deceased watercolourists who knows he cannot succeed as an artist and is on the run from the decaying grandeur of his family home.

Though undeniably dark, what is striking is its muted optimism. One feels that though Trevor is unlikely to allow his lovers the possibility of a new life together in Scandinavia, as Florian imagines for himself, their lives may not be ruined in the process. The novel’s undeniably gloomy preoccupations – loneliness, loss, pain – are somehow transformed into something uplifting.
Read the full review at Telegraph online.
Love and Summer by William Trevor
202pp, Viking, £18.99

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