Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 7, 2013

Love and Summer (2009), by William Trevor

Love and SummerWilliam Trevor is one of my favourite authors, so I was very pleased when his latest novel Love and Summer turned up on the ANZLitLovers online reading group’s reading schedule for this year.

Trevor has lived in the UK for ages and ages, but he still has the knack of capturing that attractive Irish lilt in his dialogue.  In Love and Summer it’s used for the sweet, naïve and vulnerable voice of Ellie, a foundling who marries Dillahan, when his sisters decide that he needs a housekeeper to help him run the farm after his wife and child die in a tragic accident.  Dillahan still blames himself for this accident, and though he’s a kind man, a good man, he’s in no fit state to meet Ellie’s need for love.  The town has noticed that this innocent Catholic lass brought up in a convent still has no children…

Enter the dark-haired stranger, Florian Kilderry.  I predict that my reading group will struggle to decide whether he is a villain or not.  He’s a lost soul himself, the exotic product of an Italian-Irish love match.  His mother ran away from her disapproving parents to settle down in rural Ireland and they maintained their love of art and each other to the very end.  But their only child Florian is a dabbler.  On the day he makes his way into the small town of Rathmoye to take photographs, he’s trying out his latest attempt to find a satisfying occupation.  But he dabbles with Ellie’s heart too.  With a fragile soul like Ellie, wife of a fragile soul like Dillahan, there’s a lot of harm to be done, a lot of heartbreak in store.

Florian’s presence in Rathmoye does not go unnoticed.   The sharp eyes and tongue of Mrs Connulty’s daughter are at work too.  Love and Summer is a character-driven novel and Trevor’s characterisation of the imperious Mrs Connulty and her newly liberated daughter is masterful.  In the wake of her mother’s death, Miss Connulty has moved into her mother’s bedroom.  Honouring her memories of her own lost love, she now wears the jewellery she was never allowed to touch.  As a child, she had been humiliated for trying it on – her mother had called her a thief and summoned the Garda…

Miss Connulty lifted her choice for today from the cushion of a tiny velvet-clad box: the sapphire earrings.  She took a sleeper from each ear and replaced them with the glittering blue clusters.  A ceremony her afternoon adorning herself had become this summer; the occasion each time finished with another dab of eau-de-cologne, another touch of lip salve.  She stayed a little longer when she’d completed all that, contemplating without emotion her reflected image in the looking-glass. Then she settled everything back where it belonged on the dressing-table, the jewellery in the shallow top-drawer. (p. 75)

Trevor is an economical author.  The novel is only 200-odd pages long and yet he is able to depict these characters with a complexity that defies easy judgements.  The murmuring of mad old Orpen Wren is like a creek running alongside the small-town streets of Rathmoye and though Trevor has never yet written a page-turner, Orpen’s muddled thoughts make it impossible to put down the novel until it reaches its conclusion.

Love and Summer is  reminiscent of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, also a novel exploring the character of a compliant, meek young Irish girl and her struggle for selfhood in a society that has decided what is good for her.  (See my review).  Both Eilis and Ellie are self-contained.  They have their doubts and uncertainties, but they never express them to anyone.  Love and Summer is very much a novel of suppressed emotion, exploring what it means to be good, and how complicated it can be.

Read it if you are tired of the way some authors treat the human heart like disposable consumer goods.

Author: William Trevor
Title: Love and Summer
Publisher: Viking Penguin, 2009
ISBN: 9780670918249 (hardback, first edition)
Source: Personal library, purchased from Top Titles Brighton, $45.00


Fishpond: Love and Summer


  1. Brooklyn is one of my favourite books so your comparison of this book to Brooklyn has automatically piqued my interest.


    • I heard Colm Toibin talk at the Melbourne Writers Festival, what a treat!


  2. wow was just about to mention Brooklyn when saw this as this book to me seemed the flipped side of that book the people that had stayed behind ,still shocking he never won a booker prize ,all the best stu


    • Strange how some of the best authors don’t win anything…


  3. I especially liked William Trevor’s early books which seemed more urban, more English, and more busy and lively to me. His later books seem more rural, more Irish, and more sparse and sad to me, and not quite as much fun. Early books I particularly liked were the story collections “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake”, “Angels at the Ritz”, and “Lovers of Their Time” as well as the novel “Elizabeth Alone”.


    • That’s interesting, Tony. I thought I’d read a lot of Trevor, but I’d never heard of those ones. More for the wishlist!


  4. […] For other takes on this novel, please see KevinfromCanada’s review and Lisa from ANZLitLovers review. […]


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