Is there a better way to spend the last few days of this fast fading summer than with William Trevor's haunting account of a doomed summer love affair in a small Irish town? Set in the 1950s, Love and Summer unfolds in the "compact and ordinary" village of Rathmoye, "a town in a hollow that had grown up there for no reason that anyone knew or wondered about." The town's cinema still lies in ruins from a long ago fire and its railway station has been abandoned. Still, its citizens go about their quiet lives, placidly bearing the burdens of their daily routines and, for some, their secret pain.
When they meet, prosaically, in the aisle of the Cash and Carry, there's nothing inevitable about the relationship between Florian Kilderry, the half-Italian son of deceased artist parents, in Rathmoye to see to the sale of the family homestead, and Ellie, the wife of a decent, if stolid, farmer named Dillahan, who's obsessed by his feeling of responsibility for the farming accident that killed his first wife and baby. Ellie, a "foundling" raised by nuns, had come to Rathmoye first as Dillahan's servant only later to become his wife, but she's no Emma Bovary desperate to escape her stultifying life. "She hadn't been aware that she didn't love her husband," Trevor writes, almost offhandedly, of the state of mind that brings her together with Florian.
Trevor spares us the emotional and sexual pyrotechnics that might mar the work of a lesser writer. When Florian pronounces the end of the affair, as he's about to leave Ireland for Scandinavia, he says nothing more than, "We've had our summer, Ellie," to dash her hopes with a devastating finality. Time and again, the novel reflects that gift for understatement, as Trevor offers his characters compassion, not judgment.
While tracing the arc of the lovers' relationship, Trevor also eloquently captures the rhythms of small town life. Though fraught with the tension that arises from Ellie and Florian's affair, the pace of the novel is deliberate, almost languid. And Trevor requires only a couple of terse sentences to conjure up a vivid sense of place: "The dog days of August came; Rathmoye was quiet. Small incidents occurred, were spoken of, forgotten."
William Trevor's genius, demonstrated once again in this, his 14th novel (currently longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), lies in his uncanny ability to expose, with sensitivity and insight, the complexity of even the simplest lives. That he does so in prose that's a model of elegant compression makes his achievement even more impressive.--Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: William Trevor's 14th novel is a quietly moving account of a summer love affair in a small Irish town.