For excellent plot summaries and analysis, please hop over to Kevin From Canada and The Asylum. I will not rehash the plot.
I have to say that this is, so far, my favorite of the books I have read that have been published in 2009, edging out Brooklyn. As Kevin said in his review of Love and Summer, “Toibin has more breadth…, Trevor has more depth.”
The additional depth comes not only from deeper burrowing into the psychology of the main character, but a more fully developed cast and setting. The action of the novel is constrained almost entirely to a small Irish town. The cast is not very large. It would be error, though, to suggest that the novel is of limited scope.
Most of the characters, like most people, are misfits (or perhaps malcontents) in one way or another. As Kevin and John Self noted in their reviews, the past haunts most of them and it is the way their pasts and their presents intersect that is of primary interest.
Miss Connulty is not an especially happy woman. Small towns can be places of extreme prejudice and long memories. Mistakes, and others’ memories of those mistakes, often affect small town inhabitants far into the future, in ways large and small. In Miss Connulty’s case, she never married in large part as a result of a youthful mistake. While Ellie is already married, Miss Connulty is worried that Ellie is making a mistake similar to her own. As a result of this connection in Miss Connulty’s mind, she takes a greater interest in Ellie than she otherwise would.
Ellie is a very sympathetic character. She was orphaned, raised by nuns, became a maid for an unhappy widower and, in very unromantic fashion, “promoted” (as Kevin aptly puts it) to wife. Despite the fact that Ellie has little responsibility for most of her past, the bulk having been out of her control and the rest occurring when she was too young to hold her mistakes against her, it too will intertwine with and complicate the present.
Joseph Paul Connulty is a minor, if essential, player with respect to the central events of the story. But he, too, is drawn with care and insight:
In the cemetery he changed the water in the glass container and dropped the blooms he had taken from it into a wire waste-bin supplied for this purpose. They would have lasted a few more days, even a week, but since he did not consider it fanciful that his mother each time witnessed the purchase made in Cadogan’s and the walk through the town, the changing of the water, the fresh flowers arranged, he did not take chances. It could have been that he had once, when in the cemetery, heard his mother utter – in a murmur no louder than a whisper – an expression of gratitude. But, practical man of business that he was, publican and coal merchant, who paid his debts and charged what he must, he suspected that that had been some errant sound, transformed in his thoughts to seem, momentarily, what it was not: the certainty of his faith and its related beliefs did not ever exceed his own laid-down limits of the likely.
As this portrait conveys, Joseph is established, relatively wealthy, and content with his life. Joseph has his regrets too, however, having wanted to be a priest. John Self aptly quoted the following: “The vocation slipped away from him, lost beneath the weight of his mother’s doubt that he would make a success of the religious life. In the end her doubt became his own.”
I have not read William Trevor before, but his characters feel palpably real. Joseph is not only a respectable “publican and coal merchant”, he is a man of crushed dreams. Life has worked out well enough, but not as he would have liked it. He bears a wound. This backstory, as abbreviated as it is, opens up new aspects of Joseph Paul Connulty the man. He is a minor character, but a full-bodied creation.
Of course, the primary characters are similarly well-imagined and related. Trevor provides psychological insight of such depth as to be profound. You know people like these. If not before, you will know them after you read the book. They exist, they are us, and Trevor has captured them on the page.
It may be too late to be properly disappointed that Love and Summer was not shortlisted, but I am disappointed. I love this kind of book. Interesting, believable characters involved in quiet, yet intense, psychological dramas populate my favorite novels. This is, so far, a favorite of 2009.
Thank you so much for this review. _Love and Summer_ has been in my pile of books to read, and now it will move up several steps.
I am glad you enjoyed the review and I look forward to your thoughts after you have read the book. If/when you post on your blog, please do remind me here in comments, lest I miss it.
Thanks for stopping in!
I really loved William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault; it was almost unbearably poignant, and very beautiful. I have not got this novel yet, but as soon as I find an affordable paperback edition I just know I will have to buy it!
I enjoyed Love and Summer so much, I will have to seek out The Story of Lucy Gault. Yours is not the first praise I have heard of the earlier work, but it has removed any doubt that I should read it. Thanks, as always, for your comment!
That’s an interesting review. I haven’t read anything by Trevor either, and the title of this book just sounded “blah” to me. I know, I know – that’s very judgmental of me!
I’m more curious and inclined to read it, after reading your review. Thanks:)
Thank you! The title played no positive role in my own choice to read the novel. You have to judge unread books by something. Titles are better than covers when making the first rough cut.
I admit I am pleased my review makes you more inclined to read Love and Summer because it is a very good book. If you do, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Now I probably will read “Love and Summer”. Lately I’ve only been reading his story collections which are always great. Over the years, I’ve read so many of his books, I take him for granted.
Tony, I would be very interesting in your take, particularly as you can interpret the book in the context of Trevor’s other work. Being my first, I only know I want to read more.
YAY! This book is on My Short List at Amazon. Guess I’ll go ahead and get it offa the wish list and into my house. Thanks, Kerry. Love reading your stuff, as always. Love, Joanna.
One of your favourite books of the year? That is a high recommendation. Indeed, I feel it would be foolish to ignore it!
I had wondered about the identity of this figure, to whom many refer simply as Trevor. Now that I know, I will endeavour to seek him out.
Or maybe you’ll find out your taste is not like mine. But I really did enjoy it, and I have not read that widely from the category “published in 2009”, so the competition is limited. Still, I did think it was an outstanding work. If you read it, I certainly hope you enjoy it.
Ooh… Might have to take slightly apologetic issue… I hope I would objectively recognise a good book, regardless of my subjective taste…
No doubt you would, Sarah. But this was my favourite of the year, which is not a dispassionately objective verdict. I am sure you will find it a quality book. I am not sure, though, whether you will like it as much as I did.
Great to hear from you. Let me know if you like it. I would love to hear what you thought of it. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.
[…] more psychological force, and more literary flair, in Ghost Dance for instance. Both Brooklyn and Love and Summer more fully captured the difficult choices forced on women in earlier times. (Yes, these latter were […]
[…] my much more tentative full rankings contained only one of those in the top half of my 2009 reads: Love and Summer by William […]