Like a good mystery, Death in
Summer is a tease, coyly nudging readers away
from what's really about to happen. But since its
author is William Trevor, the renowned
Anglo-Irish master of both story and novel, the
book is a lot more -- a stark rendering of English
class divisions and a compelling dramatization of
sudden, violent eruptions in the lives of those too
timid to venture beyond tidy safe harbors.
At the heart of this novel and Felicia's Journey,
Trevor's previous one, are young women of little
education and lesser means struggling to make
their way in an indifferent world. Early on, we
understood that Felicia was a doomed victim.
Pettie of Death in Summer, a shoplifting
runaway from a squalid orphanage, seems too
cunning, energetic and resourceful for that fate.
But now she's out of a job and the rent is
overdue. Maybe she can land that nanny job out
in the Essex countryside at Quincunx House,
where Thaddeus Davenant's wife has just died,
leaving behind a baby daughter.
It's too bad Pettie isn't allowed to tell this story.
Though Trevor does shift back and forth
between her and Thaddeus, it's this pale,
tight-lipped trimmer who gets most of the
attention. Thaddeus does have a certain
understated edge; while still single, he once
carried on with a married woman, and his match
with the plain but well-to-do Letitia Iveson
underscored a quietly creepy deviousness. But
instead of sliding into iniquity, the melancholy
Thaddeus only tends his garden.
To nearly every other character, Trevor gives a
bracing humanity. Maidment is the nosy butler,
rummaging through rooms and rumors like a
gossip columnist. Albert is Pettie's worrywart pal,
a young man with a big heart and endless
curiosity. Dot Ferry is Thaddeus' conniving and
pathetic former lover. Only Thaddeus'
mother-in-law, Mrs. Iveson, seems more of an
idea of upper-crust respectability than a fully
fleshed-out human being.
Above all, what makes these characters
interesting, even the tepid Thaddeus, is the
author's foreboding Olympian vision. The great
god Inertia rules all. Upstairs or downstairs, these
contemporary Britons seem to shuffle along, ever
prey to overwhelming, unseen forces. Bad things
happen to good people, all right, but Trevor is
eager to underscore the vulnerability of everyone,
good or bad. Letitia's death (in a cycling accident)
is but the first of several.
In very different ways, Pettie and Thaddeus are
strangers to love. Pettie has suffered the
mind-warping manipulations of a child molester.
Thaddeus never had much of a father, never
opened himself to love's vulnerability. Patiently,
quietly, Trevor nudges these two toward the
inevitable collision. The tension is palpable, the
insight into character shrewd, the prose slyly
seductive. -- Salon
William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence.
Trevor creates an atmosphere hushed with foreboding and informed by regret.
Exquisite. . .Redemption is, after all, Trevor's theme and he has never shrunk from showing that it is not the rich and beautiful who will pass through the eye of the needle but the poor and the plain to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.
Chillingly reminiscent of Felicia's Journey. . .vintage Trevor.
Bleakly beautiful. . .Trevor is one of the most compassionate, generous, and large-hearted writers alive.
Possibly the most perfect of Trevor's novels. . .he is a Balanchine of fiction. . . .The final pages may be the most eloquent and sorrowful passage that Trevor has ever written. Certainly, it is one of the most astonishing.
Remarkable artistry. . .for all the wit and charm of Death in Summer, horror stories don't get much more hair-raising than this.
Master storyteller Trevor's (After Rain, LJ 9/15/96) new novel is a suspenseful portrait of a tragic death and the consequences it brings. After the sudden death of his wife, Thaddeus Davenant must make arrangements for the care of his baby daughter. His mother-in-law, Mrs. Iveson, guides him as he advertises and interviews for a nanny. When a suitable candidate can't be found, Mrs. Iveson offers to fill the role herself. Another death and the escalating intrusions of Pettie, one of the rejected applicants, shatter the quiet life they have started to rebuild, forcing permanent changes. Trevor draws his characters using subtle lines, letting the reader see inside their minds to convey their troubled psychological depths. Another winner from Trevor. -- Dianna Moeller
--Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Death in Summer takes on a sense of foreboding that Hitchcock would have admired. Few writers can capture the essence of a mood or offer psychological insight as well as Trevor.
One of the masters of contemporary fiction, Trevor (After Rain, 1996.) keeps his typically level head as he quietly records two worlds in collision. Though on the surface it portrays a conflict of class, this straightforward novel also captures with equanimity the delusional world of the downtrodden and the emotionally stunted lives of the genteel rich. Trevor's tight-lipped Englishman, Thaddeus Davenant, comes into his wealth through his loveless marriage to Letitia Iveson, a spinsterish librarian who admires Thaddeus' attachment to his decaying family estate, and who, at story's outset, dies in a bicycle accident. She leaves behind a six-month-old baby, Georgina, who elicits from the usually distrustful Thaddeus a love and devotion such as he's shown no female before. All his passion has been spent on the tattered grandeur of Quincunx House, the family estate preserved by Thaddeus' Polish mother, even after the family fortunes declined.
And once Thaddeus reluctantly agrees to allow his mother-in-law (and former enemy) to join them at Quincunx, trouble beginsnot with her, but with one of the rejected nannies interviewed beforehand, an orphan girl named Pettie, who quickly develops an elaborate fantasy life involving the grieving widower and his darling child. Trevor suggests character with the ease of a single gesture or detail, and his narrative instincts are, as usual, dead-on, providing just enough melodramatic intrigue to propel his studies in interior life.
"As delicate as Two Lives and as menacing as Felicia's Journey, Death in Summer contains... writing so sublime that it will break your heart twice — once with sadness and once with beauty." —Daily News
"Evil is never so elegant as when Trevor turns his velvet-gloved hand to the discreet thriller." —Winnipeg Sun, Top Books of 1998
"Stunning—One of the most enthralling books of the year." —Bolen Books
"A deliciously menacing vision of Cruel Britannia. [Trevor's] exquisite prose draws comparisons with…Alice Munro, but beneath the mannered surface lurks the devilish imagination of a Patricia Highsmith." —The Globe and Mail