Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Recommendation 4 : Love and Summer

Old Columban William Trevor's first novel since The Story of Lucy Gault seven years ago is on this year's Man Booker Prize longlist. Love and Summer starts On a June evening some years after the middle of the last century Mrs Eileen Connulty passed through the town of Rathmoye: from Number 4 The Square to Magennis Street, into Hurley Lane, along Irish Street, across Cloughjordan Road to the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. Her night was spent there.

That opening is almost deliberately downbeat and un-interesting, but it turns out to be a gentle tease, and also to hit on two of the driving ideas of the book, and indeed of all Trevor's work: place and time. As with so many of Trevor's novels, individuals struggle to fulfil themselves in the stultifying environments; in the new book, farmer's wife Ellie is a particularly tragic figure, and her sympathetically-drawn husband could come from McGahern or Kavanagh.

Love and Summer shares many of the preoccupations of Lucy Gault, which we're studying for next year's Leaving Certificate, but unlike the earlier novel it's more tightly focussed in time and place, staying in Rathmoye over the course of that summer and not attempting Lucy Gault's great reach. And while Lucy Gault slowly dies away in images of forgiveness and calm, Love and Summer leaves its characters - and us - in raw abandonment.

The book is just 212 pages long, but in its emotional wisdom, narrative drive, structural elegance and beautiful prose it's far bigger in every way than most modern fiction.

You can read the start of the novel on the Irish Times site here. Sebastian Barry's review in the Guardian is here, in which he points out that Trevor is a writer, writing like a sculptor, in that he creates a mass of material and then happily, passionately, brilliantly takes away, takes away, swirl of sentence by swirl of sentence.

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