The topic of William Trevor’s novel Love and Summer is made clear by the title. The beauty and fertility of Irish summer is strewn in abundance across the pages but the rousing passions of love remain largely absent. Trevor is a superb author with an incredible command of language and a delicate but rigorous understanding of inner lives. Part of Trevor’s genius lies in his ability to communicate emotions and complicated truths while leaving much unsaid. But in Love and Summer what isn’t articulated is too strongly vague and its saps the life from the novel.
Ellie is the orphaned heroine of the book. She was raised by nuns, and they continue to figure as a warm presence in her life. A position as housekeeper for the widower Dillahan is found for Ellie once she has passed through adolescence. After a few years Ellie assumes the status of wife on Dillahan’s farm. Her husband is a good, if not particularly emotive, man. Ellie has learned her duties well and does them contentedly if not with joy. They are childless but this is her only disappointment. One imagines that the Dillahans have the capacity to carry on indefinitely. But Ellie’s calm is interrupted by the appearance of a stranger in Rathmoye.
The appearance of Florian Kilderry is an entirely random event. There is little reason to pass through Rathmoye. Florian is from a town nearby, his parents have recently died and he has nothing keeping him in Ireland. He and Ellie become acquainted by chance and though he thinks about her afterward, even dreaming of her, his effect on her is much more severe. She falls for him immediately. Routine series of trysts in the open countryside of Ireland unfold but there is never a moment of animation seen between them. Trevor’s discretion is often mesmerizing but the entire absence of romantic detail makes the affair come across as prudish, practically imagined, as opposed to precious and private.
Glimpses are given into the lives of other of the town members. Moments of pity and humor are strongly felt and Rathmoye has the odd, colorful personalities to be expected from a small town. A forgetful madman plays a significant, as do the Connultys, an important family in the town whose final generation is unmarried. Ultimately the cast of characters seems caught in a stupor induced by the haze of summer. Miss Connulty, who herself experienced mistaken love, is the only one who behaves without languor. But her plaintive warnings sound peevish and jealous against the template of those who drift along.
The entrance given into the lives of the characters only reveal the ways in which everyone is making do. The comfort of routine soothes the broken heart and silent admirers are resigned to the precious hour in which they can view their beloved. There is a vague suggestion that history has the tendency to repeat itself, but the characters are so private and reserved that any inclination of exchange or connection remains concealed.
Trevor is one of my favorite author’s, but it is his short stories that are the emblems of his success. He contains loneliness and hope in the spaces of his sentences and the simple gathering of paragraphs. The frame of a novel is too bulky for the bewitching minimalism of the moments he creates. Love and Summer is not without its descriptive brilliance and its deeply affecting moments of solitude but these are lost in the abundance of faintly sketched characters and I found myself yearning for the brevity of After Rain.