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Death in Summer

Death in Summer

3.0 2
by William Trevor

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New York Times Bestseller and Notable Book
From the winner of the 1999 David Cohen British Literature Prize comes an unforgettably chilling novel, written with the compassion and artistry that define Trevor's fiction.

There were three deaths that summer. The first was Letitia’s, sudden and quite unexpected, leaving her


New York Times Bestseller and Notable Book
From the winner of the 1999 David Cohen British Literature Prize comes an unforgettably chilling novel, written with the compassion and artistry that define Trevor's fiction.

There were three deaths that summer. The first was Letitia’s, sudden and quite unexpected, leaving her husband, Thaddeus, haunted by the details of her last afternoon.
The next death came some weeks later, after Thaddeus’s mother-in-law helped him to interview for a nanny to bring up their baby. None of the applicants were suitable—least of all the last one, with her sharp features, her shabby clothes that reeked of cigarettes, her badly typed references—so Letitia’s mother moved herself in. But then, just as the household was beginning to settle down, the last of the nannies surprisingly returned, her unwelcome arrival heralding the third of the summer tragedies.
“William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence. . . . His skill is very real, and equals his great compassion. With Death in Summer, these two qualities combine in a beautiful and resonant way.”—The New York Time Book Review
“Possibly the most perfect of Trevor’s novels . . . Astonishing.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Beautifully paced and mesmerizing . . . Offering us a compelling mystery on many levels through . . . finely drawn, perfect glimpses of touchingly imperfect lives.”—The Washington Post Book World
Nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
Exquisite. . .Redemption isafter allTrevor'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.
Dan Cryer

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

NY Times Book Review
William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence.
Wall Street Journal
Trevor creates an atmosphere hushed with foreboding and informed by regret.
NY Review of Books
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.
Boston Sunday Globe
Chillingly reminiscent of Felicia's Journey. . .vintage Trevor.
Bleakly beautiful. . .Trevor is one of the most compassionate, generous, and large-hearted writers alive.
LA Times Book Review
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.
Library Journal
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
USA Today
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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 begins—not 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.

From the Publisher
"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

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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by William Trevor



William Trevor's fiction is inhabited by characters who suffer from an inner longing and desperation that is heartbreaking. In Death in Summer, his most emotionally resonant novel, Trevor's keen attention to the smallest detail and his subtle hand reveal the tragedy that comes with the inability to love.

Thaddeus Davenant is the last descendant of a distinguished English family and owner of Quincunx House. He has just lost his wife, Letitia, a person of "almost wayward generosity." Yet, despite her compassion and her "Piero della Francesca face," Thaddeus acknowledges that he was never able to really love Letitia. It is Georgina, their baby daughter, who receives all of Thaddeus's attention. He admits he married Letitia primarily out of financial necessity, his own family fortune long since gone. It is this deception, even more than Letitia's sudden death, which haunts Thaddeus throughout the novel.

When Thaddeus and Mrs. Iveson, his mother-in-law, begin interviewing for nannies to care for his infant daughter, their carefully manicured world is invaded by a series of coarse, unattractive young women. Pettie, the young girl who smells of cigarettes, proves unsuitable for the job, but develops an obsession with Thaddeus that will expose the frailties of both characters. Pettie, the product of the Morning Star, a grim institution for homeless children, latches onto Thaddeus, thinking of him as her salvation. The only affection Pettie has ever known came from her sexually abusive "Sunday Uncles" who visited the Morning Star on weekends.

We learn that Thaddeus was equally unloved as a child, ignored by his parents, and is therefore unable to feel love as an adult. Although their worlds could not be more different, Thaddeus and Pettie are both haunted by the same longing. Ironically, when Pettie's obsession drives her to steal Georgina from Quincunx House, their sole chance at understanding and redemption occurs. Thaddeus must allow himself to feel real emotion for the first time and submit to the incredible love he has for his own daughter; Pettie must return to the Morning Star, the origin of her troubles. It is the death she encounters there that will bring her freedom. And it is Albert, her only friend, a seemingly simple young man of unrivaled compassion and understanding, who will ultimately show all the characters in Death in Summer the most hidden human failings.



William Trevor is the author of twenty-eight books, which include novels, short story collections, a play, a volume of memoir, and a children's tale. Among his many prizes are a 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as Best Books of the Year. His short stories appear regularly in The New Yorker.



In many of your novels, you show a real affinity for desperate, victimized women. Where does your capacity for understanding these women come from?

The capacity you're thinking of is imagination; without it there can be no understanding, indeed no fiction.

The image of motherhood is pervasive throughout your work, especially mothers who are inattentive or abusive. Why?

I value mothers and motherhood enormously. For every inattentive or abusive mother in my fiction I think you'll find a dozen or so who are neither.

In Death in Summer, there are several allusions to the Lindbergh kidnapping. Was this the inspiration for the story?

No. It's natural for anyone of a certain age who remembers hearing about the Lindbergh kidnapping to recall it when a baby disappears.

How do you believe your own childhood has influenced your writing?

There is an element of autobiography in all fiction in that pain or distress, or pleasure, is based on the author's own. But in my case that is as far as it goes. Descriptions of, for instance, physical pain have to be the author's own experience. He cannot know, exactly, how someone else has suffered in this way. Otherwise, I don't think my childhood—or later life—has had much influence on my writing.



  1. What is your impression of Letitia? What does her kindness toward Mrs. Ferry say about her character? Is she a saintly figure?
  2. How does the marriage of Zenobia and Maidment compare with that of Letitia and Thaddeus? Is it a more fully realized relationship?
  3. How does Thaddeus relate to women? Is his interest in them simply self-serving? Does he seem to have affection for either Mrs. Ferry or Letitia?
  4. What is Mrs. Iveson's opinion of her daughter's compassion? What does she mean when she says, "Letitia's innocence seems just a little remarkable now, and I wonder if the good are always innocent"? Is she being disdainful toward her daughter's memory?
  5. What is Pettie's attitude toward other women? We learn that she has been sexually abused by older men as a child. Why do you think she gravitates toward them?
  6. How does Trevor use lush, natural imagery to contrast the sparse existence of the characters that inhabit Quincunx House?
  7. What is your impression of Albert? What qualities does he share with Letitia? Why is his profession significant?
  8. After Georgina is taken, Thaddeus says that "A miracle it has seemed. . . Loving Georgina." What miracles have Georgina's birth and subsequent kidnapping brought about?
  9. How are Pettie and Thaddeus similar characters?
  10. Is Pettie's tragic death somehow redemptive? Could she have been saved?

Meet the Author

William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, and spent his childhood in provincial Ireland. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin. He 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, and The Story of Lucy Gault, which was shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the Whitbread Fiction Prize. 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 appeared regularly in The New Yorker. In 1997, he was named Honorary Commander of the British Empire.

Brief Biography

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

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Death in Summer 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The master does it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago