William Trevor's Love and Summer is a bittersweet story set in (what feels like anyway) 1950s rural Ireland. I was fully expecting heartache and I was expecting a story that would be all too familiar to me, but in Trevor's most capable hands, it was so much more than the "expected". Don't let a slender book like this one fool you, as an author like William Trevor doesn't need endless space filled with tiny print to make you gasp with appreciation and recognition. And heartache. Why am I not surprised he is such a highly regarded short story writer. His novels are equally as good.
"Nothing happened in Rathmoye, its people said, but most of them went on living there. It was the young who left -- for Dublin or Cork or Limerick, for England, sometimes for America. A lot of them came back. That nothing happened was an exaggeration too."
Rathmoye is your typical small town. In particular it's a typical Irish village where everyone lives in everyone else's pockets and nothing goes unnoticed. And rarely does something go unremarked. It's nearly impossible to keep a secret there. So when Florian Kilderry arrives one warm summer morning to photograph an old, dilapidated cinema that is no longer in use, it causes quite a stir. The town happens to be out en masse attending the funeral of a local woman, so he is even more of a curiosity since he is so obviously not there to mourn the dead.
"Dark-haired and thin, in his early twenties, the young man was a stranger in Rathmoye. A suggestion of stylishness -- in his general demeanor, in his jaunty green-and-blue-striped tie -- was repudiated by the comfortable bagginess of his suit. His features had a misleading element of seriousness in their natural cast, contributing further to this impression of contradiction."
He's quite unselfconscious and equally unapologetic. He is one corner of what is going to be a love triangle and the woman in the middle is Ellie Dillahan. Ellie is also not a native of Rathmoye. She was raised in the convent after she was orphaned and came to the village to work in the house of a widower. Young and naive and not especially experienced in relationships in general she ends up marrying the farmer who is quite a kind and even-tempered man some years her senior. Dillahan treats Ellie with high regard. It is with almost kid gloves that he handles his young wife, no doubt due to the remorse he feels over the death of his first wife and their child.
Florian and Dillahan couldn't be more different. Florian is of an age with Ellie. He is the son of an Irish father and Italian mother who were both artists. After their deaths he can no longer afford to stay on their once thriving estate. As he prepares to sell the house and land and leave the area, he cycles about photographing the countryside, photography being the only artistic outlet he was gifted with, but even that is somewhat lackluster for him. Florian's thoughts are for his Italian cousin and Ellie is initially only a mild and attractive flirtation for him. Dillahan is in the relationship for the long haul but goes through life with blinders on. So when Florian returns again and again to Rathmoye, albeit with no particular intentions to steal away young maidens, he stirs things up. Stirs Ellie up.
"She hadn't been aware that she didn't love her husband."
A devastating thought, and an emotion and desire which will steamroll to an expected conclusion. But don't don't be so sure you will think you will know what is going to happen. It might, but not likely in the way you will expect.
William Trevor is clever in all the best ways, and he has created a tightly woven story that is observed by the dead woman's daughter, who has her own secrets to keep and will in turn inform how the story goes. Mrs. Connulty, not the mourned mother from the funeral, but her grown daughter watches and tries to stop the inevitable. At first glance Mrs. Connulty seems to be the worst story of little-town busybody that is too much of a cliché, but even she surprised me in the end.
I fully expected to like this story, but I ended up loving it. One of the blurbs on the book calls William Trevor's writing exquisite, and it is indeed. I put him in the same class of writer as Elizabeth Taylor. They are writers who I hugely admire and would happily pick up any of either author's books. I have had Love and Summer since it first came out and I could say, why ever did I wait so long to pick it up and read, but I think it came along at just the right moment. Besides, why take away the pleasure I just had in reading it now.