William Trevor's new book Love and Summer is a wistful tale, redolent of lost chances. Its first third, as its characters are introduced, feels more like a set of short stories than a novel. The narrative ambles from neatly sketched character to neatly sketched character in desultory prose that eventually settles down to tell a predictable yet still involving story.
Love and Summer opens with a funeral, of which the embittered Miss Connulty is the benefactress:
Miss Connulty didn't care any more. They could do what they liked: delicious death had been a richer compensation than she had ever dreamed of. She was in charge, and today she wore the pearls.Ellie Dillahan, an orphan in the care of the nuns, receives her good fortune in becoming the the servant of Mr. Dillahan, a farmer, who eventually marries her. Both women's routines are disturbed by the appearance of Florian Kilderry, a young dreamer on a bicycle.
She wondered if she would be the same herself; if she was no longer - and would not be again - the person she was when she had gone to Mrs. Connulty's funeral and for all the time before that. When he had asked whose funeral it was it had been the beginning but she hadn't known. When Miss Connulty had drawn her attention to him in the Square she had realized. When he'd smiled in the Cash and Carry she'd known it too. She had been different already when she stood with him in the sunshine, when he offered her the cigarette and she shook her head. Anyone could have seen them and she hadn't cared.Each woman has been rescued from misfortune, Ellie from loneliness and poverty and Miss Connulty from an early pregnancy out-of-wedlock. Each accepts her salvation into a passionless world of routine without question, realizing only later what they have given up, and in the heat of a summer, Florian Kilderry, almost a ghost haunting the ruins of his family's estate, ignites their fantasy.
In fact, there are two ruined estates in this story, and their presence creates a landscape of desolate romance that seems doomed from the start. I found this an imperfect novel. It was easy to see what was going to happen. Although I cared what would happen to Ellie and Florian, I found them rendered with a lack of specificity. They remained stand-ins for romantic characters who I could never really see as people. Ultimately I found Miss Connulty drawn with greater detail and her secrets and paradoxes far more intriguing. Her subplot lies abandoned for a chunk of the novel, only to be picked up again at its end. I am left having enjoyed the beauty and assurance of Trevor's prose and the atmosphere he created in Love and Summer without ever completely falling in love with the story.