Saturday, August 29, 2009
Love and Summer
LOVE AND SUMMER
I was sitting in the beauty parlour, with my nose in Love and Summer and the Indian lady who was scrubbing my feet said: “What’s that book about, that you’re reading?” I told her it was a love story, set in rural Ireland in the 1950s. “That sounds interesting,” she said. Then I told her the author is an eighty-one year old man. Suddenly she was very indignant. She said, “That’s disgusting. A man that age shouldn’t be writing about love. He should be praying and waiting for death.”
Well, all I can say is thank goodness William Trevor doesn’t have pedicures at my beauty parlour. For his novel Love and Summer is so exquisite I had to pace myself reading it, so it wouldn’t end too soon.
Rural Ireland in the 1950s was a deadly boring place. Nothing ever happened. And nothing happened the next day either. Little wonder some of the jaded inhabitants of small town Rathmoye are driven to taking an unnatural interest in the activities of their neighbours. It’s either that or going stark staring mad.
This is the story of Ellie, a foundling reared by nuns. She’s sent to work as a servant for a farmer whose young wife and child were tragically killed in a tractor accident. The farmer is still in love with his dead wife, but proposes marriage to Ellie. Their marriage is silent and respectful. He puts the meat on the table and she cooks it.
The story is also about Florian, a diffident, wealthy young man, who dabbles in photography. Florian’s parents are dead, his love for his cousin is unrequited; he has decided to emigrate out of Ireland. All summer he’s killing time, reading and smoking, seeking distraction, until his inheritance is sold.
There’s a funeral in Rathmoye and Florian cycles down to photograph it. Here he meets Ellie, and here he is first observed by Miss Connulty the spinster daughter of the dead woman. In her youth Miss Connulty fell victim to the oily charms of a travelling salesman. The romance ended badly and since then she has not trusted the intentions of any glamorous stranger appearing in Rathmoye. When she sees Florian talking to Ellie, she immediately jumps to the conclusion that he intends to seduce her. Miss Connulty – we don’t know her name – is determined this should not happen.
“Aloud, and firmly, she stated again that she intended to protect Ellie Dillahan in whatever way should be necessary.”
Miss Connulty cautions Ellie that Florian is bad news. She advises that love is a madness. But her wise words of experience go unheeded. Ellie rushes headlong into a love affair; she secretly meets with Florian at a tumbledown gate lodge where no-one can see them. And as the date for his leaving approaches, she knows she’s fallen in love with him...
William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork. His parents worked for a bank and the family moved often, from one small rural Irish town to another. He started his career as a sculptor but is best known as a short story writer, who writes about “loneliness, alienation, middle class marriage, the plight of the elderly, the eccentric, the pathetic; the unloved.” He has won many literary prizes, all of them richly deserved.
VERDICT: My father in law is eighty- one, and always says he feels exactly the same as when he was twenty. The only thing that has changed is a stiffness in his joints. Bearing this in mind, I hope William Trevor never considers himself too old to write about love.