William Trevor’s books are not the sort of cozy tales you’d curl up with under a warm fleece blanket while negative temperatures rage outside for the third week straight. (I’m dramatizing a bit – it’s only negative Celsius, not Fahrenheit). I remember growing up that my parents recommended I not read them, which was uncharacteristic – after all, I had devoured most of 19th century British fiction by time I turned 15. Yet there was something in Trevor’s books which, while much appreciated artistically, they did not think it wise to expose me to.
Years later, I’ve been enveloped in the universe Trevor creates. His short stories, based in his native Ireland, are masterpieces of raw emotional pain hidden in everyday chores and gestures, exchanges of banal words portentous with meaning, unlikely heroes and heroines with little heroism about them, surprising endings which feel incomplete.
Love and Summer, a 2009 novel of his, does not stray from this humble yet complex world. The novel tells the story – if there is one? – of a few inhabitants of the village of Rathmoye. A haunted farmer and his orphan-girl wife, a middle-aged brother and sister struggling with the past and future after the death of their mother, the village madman, the confused and callous young heir to a crumbling estate. Their lives come together and separate.
Over the long summer, not much seems to happen, yet everything changes.
Love and Summer is a short read, yet not a light one. There are topics for a mature audience – betrayal, abortion, grief – and yet they are skillfully hinted at, mentioned, given their due in the space of only a few words. Trevor is never heavy-handed with his drama, preferring to draw it out, infusing descriptions of seemingly innocuous rural chores with a deeper, more profound sound.
And his characters, while not completely ikeable, draw our empathy for their failings, for their pride, anger, lack of direction, deep-seated grief. For being as human as we are, and helping us recognize ourselves in a description of a sleepy Irish village in the 1950s.
This work of Trevor’s is yet another masterpiece.