Two Lives

Two Lives

by William Trevor
     
 

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William Trevor's astonishing range as a writer--his humor, subtlety, and compassionate grasp of human behavior--is fully demonstrated in these two short novels. In Reading Turgenev, a lonely country girl escapes her loveless marriage in the arms of a bookish young man. In My House in Umbria, a former madam befriends the other survivors of a terrorist bombing with

Overview

William Trevor's astonishing range as a writer--his humor, subtlety, and compassionate grasp of human behavior--is fully demonstrated in these two short novels. In Reading Turgenev, a lonely country girl escapes her loveless marriage in the arms of a bookish young man. In My House in Umbria, a former madam befriends the other survivors of a terrorist bombing with surprising results. Nominated for the Booker Award.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Books of the Century
...The reader is gently jolted into seeing beneath the beautifully composed surfaces the rippling complexities inherent in being human.
Books of the CenturyNew York Times
...[T]he reader is gently jolted into seeing beneath [the beautifully composed surfaces] the rippling complexities inherent in being human.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of our modern masters, Trevor (Fools of Fortune; Family Sins) is in top form with this exquisite pair of mirroring narratives. The first novella, ``Reading Turgenev,'' is the story of a woman who, denied love in her marriage, turns to a half-imaginary romance with a cousin who reads Turgenev to her in a cemetery; later, she desolately retreats into the shadowy world of her memories and desires. ``My House in Umbria'' is a first-person narrative about an aging writer of romances with a mysterious past whose fiction exhibits resolution and a kind of tranquility. A passenger on a train attacked by terrorists, the writer takes in a group of fellow survivors of the blast. Their healing becomes cathartic for her, bringing elements of her past to the surface. The two lives thus limned provide a balanced pair of portraits, one of a woman who avoids reality and the other of one who confronts it. Told in Trevor's graceful, evocative language, these narratives are further evidence of the author's sublime grasp of the complexities of human relationships.
Library Journal
Two Lives is two full-blown novels on isolated women, a vein familiar from Trevor's very elegant and very popular short stories. The first life, ``Reading Turgenev,'' is the uneventful one: marriage of convenience gone sour in small-town Ireland, glimpse of love in dying young man (who provides the Turgenev), willful retreat into loneliness. The second, ``My House in Umbria,'' is the eventful one: prostitute-turned-romance-novelist tears across three continents until slowed (and rendered reflective) by terrorist bomb. There is something labored about all this, especially the old-age frame for the first story and the chat about writing novels in the second. But Trevor's 12 novels (if we count this once) consistently manage to be both intelligent and moving. His loyal, literate following will be pleased by a two-for-one offer inviting exercises in comparison and contrast. -- John P. Harrington, Cooper Union, New York, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Trevor (Family Sins) provides genuine literary delight as well as book-buying value in this clever pairing of two novels under one title.The longer of the two, "Reading Turgenev," is also the more conventional—a somber tale of a woman who feigns madness in response to an oppressive "marriage of convenience." Mary Louise Dallon, the 21-year-old daughter of an impoverished Irish Protestant farmer, hopes to escape the boredom of country life by marrying "the only well-to-do Protestant for miles around." Elmer Quarry, almost twice Mary Louise's age, is a bald and paunchy tradesman who lives in town with his two mean and petty unmarried sisters. Not surprisingly, the marriage is doomed from the start, with Elmer unable to bring it to consummation and his sisters making daily life for Mary Louise a living hell. While kind and guilt-ridden Elmer retreats into the bottle, Mary Louise develops a wild passion for her sickly cousin who, on their secret trysts, reads her Russian novels. Their love remains chaste since the cousin dies suddenly, sending Mary Louise deeper into herself. Eventually, she's institutionalized, to be released decades later, all the while revisiting the scenes of her true love, the passages from Turgenev that stirred her soul. The narrator of "My House in Umbria" also escapes into literature—the formulaic romance novels she writes with much commercial success in her middle age. Her retreat from reality was occasioned by a life of hardship that's far more interesting than anything in her fiction. Sold at birth by her natural parents, her adoptive father began to abuse her sexually at an early age. Eventually, she becomes a prostitute in Africa, where shesaves enough money to buy a villa in Italy and begin writing her books. Fate intrudes in a rude way when she survives an unclearly motivated bombing on an Italian train, undermining the serenity she found in writing. Vastly different in style and setting, the two stories converge thematically, testifying to the range of Trevor's talent and the singularity of his vision.

From the Publisher
Two Lives offers two superb novels in one volume . . . as rich and moving as anything I have read in years. . . . Marvelous.” —The Guardian

“A sensibility reigns here which is at once inquisitive and loving. . . . Trevor’s is among the most subtle and sophisticated fiction being written today.” —John Banville, The New York Review of Books

“A writer at the peak of his powers; [Two Lives] reminds you what good reading is all about.” —Anne Tyler, Chicago Sun Times

“One of the most beautiful and memorable things Trevor has written.” —Hermione Lee, The Independent on Sunday (U.K.)

“These novels will endure. And in every beautiful sentence there is not a word out of place.” —Anita Brookner, The Spectator (U.K.)

“Trevor’s adroit playing-off of two worlds in each of the Two Lives—the sterile and the sublime—enables him to balance humor and heartbreak in perfect equilibrium.” —John Walsh, The Sunday Times (London)

“He writes like an angel, but is determined to wring your heart . . . Trevor at his most evocative and haunting.” —The Daily Mail (U.K.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140153729
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/28/1992
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 7.85(h) x 0.99(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Two Lives offers two superb novels in one volume . . . as rich and moving as anything I have read in years. . . . Marvelous.” —The Guardian

“A sensibility reigns here which is at once inquisitive and loving. . . . Trevor’s is among the most subtle and sophisticated fiction being written today.” —John Banville, The New York Review of Books

“A writer at the peak of his powers; [Two Lives] reminds you what good reading is all about.” —Anne Tyler, Chicago Sun Times

“One of the most beautiful and memorable things Trevor has written.” —Hermione Lee, The Independent on Sunday (U.K.)

“These novels will endure. And in every beautiful sentence there is not a word out of place.” —Anita Brookner, The Spectator (U.K.)

“Trevor’s adroit playing-off of two worlds in each of the Two Lives—the sterile and the sublime—enables him to balance humor and heartbreak in perfect equilibrium.” —John Walsh, The Sunday Times (London)

“He writes like an angel, but is determined to wring your heart . . . Trevor at his most evocative and haunting.” —The Daily Mail (U.K.)

Meet the Author

William Trevor is the author of twenty-nine books, including Felicia’s Journey, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was made into a motion picture. In 1996 he was the recipient of the Lannan Award for Fiction. In 2001, he won the Irish Times Literature Prize for fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as best books of the year, and his short stories appear regularly in the New Yorker. In 1997, he was named Honorary Commander of the British Empire. He lives in Devon, England.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Devon, England
Date of Birth:
May 24, 1928
Place of Birth:
Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland
Education:
Trinity College, Dublin, 1950

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