William Trevor Cox is 81 now, very much Irish but living in a Devon cottage with his wife of 57 years. Seldom granting interviews, he quietly churns out some of the most subtle, insightful short stories and novels in the English language. Love and Summer is one of his finest creations.
In a small Irish town in 1960, a young woman — once an orphan girl raised by nuns — finds herself in an arranged marriage with a kind but “uninquisitive” farmer. When a dashing but sad and indebted photographer steers his bicycle into town, she’s smitten in a way that has her considering, for the first time in her life, her own happiness.
Reviewers, evidently, are required by international statute to compare Trevor to Anton Chekhov. There’s a line from one of Chekhov’s letters that suggests why: “People are sitting at a table having dinner, that’s all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart.” It’s like that with Trevor: Judgments are made, hearts are broken, and all the while, lorries are making their deliveries in the street, parishioners are mounting the stairs up to the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. As the farmer’s wife is locking up the chicken coop, suddenly love-longing floods in.
Trevor distinguishes the two lovers even in the ways they imagine each other’s previous life. When Ellie pictures what Florian’s rambling boyhood home — now run-down — was like, she idealizes it, seeing it “without dilapidation.” Yet even after Ellie tells Florian that her orphan girls’ home “wasn’t horrible” (”the nuns pretended our birthdays, they gave us our names”), he still, in typically depressive manner, imagines its shabbiness.
You think, midway, that the lovers’ fate is predictable; then Trevor takes you uncomfortably far into their hearts.
Written with the closely observed detail of a short story, Love and Summer presents a set of guilt-ridden small-town folks whose choices keep them enmeshed in the past. It’s meant to be read slowly and savored.