Love and Summer is not a typical romance, indeed there is very little that is romantic in these pages. As I read to the novel’s climax I could not help but think: this is the most unromantic retelling of a love story I have ever read. And that is the very soul animating this slim and powerful novel. This is a novel about love and desire. It is a story that illuminates all of the imperfections and nuances of those emotions. Love and Summer is a tale of true love, real love, the kind of banal, ever-present love that exists in reality. This is a novel about wanting and needing and what it means to be the giver and taker in love and life. The love story portrayed here is one that millions of people, past, present, and likely, of those even yet to be born would recognize in a second. As I read it, I could not help but also think: I’ve seen this love. I’ve felt this. How, William Trevor, and when did you peek into my life?
The tale takes place in a small, rural Irish village, in a time that is rarely mentioned except for hints dropped here and there, which tell the reader that this happens in a moment passed, but not so long ago as to be beyond our imagined lifetimes. There is a suspension of chronology embedded in Trevor’s prose that adds positively to its emotional delivery. It makes the love story relatable to anyone in any era of history.
The place: a sleepy, conservative Irish village is a key component — indeed a character itself — of the novel. The residents and the pervasive Catholicism of this locale are the skeletal supports conveying to the reader what life in Ireland, for the ordinary person, is like. Through precise dialogue, the banal and expansive decisions and actions of its characters, and — perhaps more significantly — what is left unsaid the reader is treated to a palpable element of romance: the reader cannot help but acknowledge how social environment is as much a partner in romance as the lovers themselves.
Trevor is brilliant in never mentioning religion or even the Church outright. This is a wonderful authorial trick; those words, those things never need mentioning for they are so entrenched in the social fabric of Ireland that its presence and influence is seamless. This is Trevor’s brilliance: the sentence hung in mid air, a conversation unfinished but clearly ended, the just barely perceptible motion of an eyelid or a twitch in the wrist conveys more than an entire page of text could. The place and the people surrounding the lovers are critical to the love story.
The first one hundred pages of this just-over-two-hundred paged novel are devoted to these seemingly peripheral — but oh-so-crucial characters. The novel opens, in fact, in the middle of an event unrelated to the love story itself. But by the time you get to page 100, it starts to make sense: these disparate events and conversations, this focus on place and people and society, are important.
The second half of the novel and the unfolding of the lovers’ tale itself is made all the more poignant and heart-rending by the first one hundred pages. Trevor plans the reader’s descent into love and the final plunge into heartbreak with finesse; you can’t tell you’ve fallen in love — with the novel or the lovers — until it’s too late to extricate yourself. The effect is devastating, and it mimics the romantic fall of the lovers themselves. I must stop here, or I risk spoiling the novel for the reader.
I will end with this: Love and Summer is a love affair not to be entered into lightly. This novel is the lover that will haunt all your future romances. It is a novel that will remind you over and over again how lacking other love stories are. But you’ll be thankful that you had the chance to read such a love story, that you were privileged enough to have had such a novel in your life.