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Death in Summer Hardcover – September 1, 1998

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A William Trevor novel offers the pleasures of a world so thoroughly imagined it makes real life seem murky and badly conceived. When, as in Death in Summer or in his previous novel, Felicia's Journey, his subtle vision meets the rigorous pacing of the thriller, the result chills to the bone. Like a mystery, Death in Summer begins with one premature demise and ends with another; in between, however, Trevor explores the darkest corners of the human heart with a subtlety and compassion rarely seen in works of suspense.

Handsome Thaddeus Davenant has just buried his young, wildly generous wife Letitia--a rescuer of stray dogs and a champion of street drunks. In contrast, Thaddeus is a kind of emotional cripple, scarred by a childhood spent lonely and unloved in his ancestral Quincunx House. He married Letitia for her money, as is immediately clear. Yet he would have loved her, if he had been able, and after their child is born he feels for the first time "possessed by an affection he had been unable to feel for anyone since his own infancy." When Letitia dies, victim of a freak accident, and none of the nannies interviewed prove suitable, her mother moves in to care for the baby. Mrs. Iveson has always considered Thaddeus "shoddy goods," and their détente only gradually thaws into something resembling warmth. Meanwhile, Pettie, one of the rejected nannies, has "taken a shine" to Thaddeus--with increasingly ominous results.

Pettie inhabits a world far removed from the genteel decay of Quincunx House. Reared in the nightmarish Morning Star home, where the only affection was the creepy kind dispensed by her "Sunday uncle," Pettie is poor, broken, and pathologically starved for love. Trevor chronicles her obsession with Thaddeus in a way that makes clear both Pettie's humanity and her capacity to do serious harm. Still, this is a hopeful book. Grim as Pettie's story may be, she causes stony-hearted Thaddeus to feel the first stirrings of human sympathy, "as the warmth of blood might miraculously seep into a shadow, or anesthesia be lifted by a jolt...." Throughout William Trevor's long and storied career, his subject has been nothing less than the problem of evil, and in Death in Summer, he makes a convincing case for its origins in the absence of love. --Mary Park

From Publishers Weekly

A hot, beautiful summer in Essex provides the background for Trevor's latest novel, in which three deaths occur and people from all of England's social classes interact in unexpected ways. Thaddeus Davenant, the penurious descendant of an illustrious family, marries Letitia Iveson for her money but learns to appreciate her gentle goodness. When she dies in a freak accident, he's left with their infant daughter. After his interviews with nanny applicants fail to produce a candidate, his mother-in-law volunteers to move into Quincunx House to care for Georgina. But Thaddeus has unwittingly introduced evil into his household. Devastated when she is not hired as Georgina's nanny, desperate, love-starved Pettie, brought up in a foster home where she was sexually abused, becomes obsessed with the life she imagines she would live with Thaddeus and concocts a plan to remove Mrs. Iveson from the scene. Meanwhile, Thaddeus is forced to come to the aid of his former mistress, a lower-class woman whose illness and death coincide with his other crises. Trevor's insight into human nature and his dexterity in depicting characters from the lower strata of society are again displayed in this mesmerizing story. Pettie, like the heroine of Felicia's Journey (1995), has neither a consoling family nor inner resources to sustain her. The contrasts between Quincunx House and the Morning Star youth home, and between the genteel stoicism of the upper classes and the desperation of those with nothing to lose, are stunningly clear. As usual, Trevor's prose is meticulous and restrained, and surprises resonate after their quiet disclosure. His message?that life is cruel because death is random, but for some, life's cruelty is such that death is a balm?is conveyed with the ease of a master storyteller and humane observer.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin, Inc.; 1st edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067088202X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670882021
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,874,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork. He has written many novels, and has won many prizes including the Hawthornden Prize, the Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Award, and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. His most recent novel Love and Summer was longlisted for the Booker Prize. He is also a renowned short-story writer, and his two-volume Collected Stories was published by Viking Penguin in 2009. In 1999 William Trevor received the prestigious David Cohen Literature Prize in recognition of a lifetime's literary achievement, and in 2002 he was knighted for his services to literature. He now lives in Devon.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
but if you are willing to trace the route he uses to arrive at his conclusion, you will be rewarded. Trevor writes impressionistically, describing a slow, backlit reality hung with moody distractions and twice thought memories that are at once sharp and vague. There is a pervasive ambiguity that subtly threatens to coalesce into an all too clear knowledge of the truth.
It takes the entire book to complete the picture of the inhabitants of this broken world. The characters continue to recede before us dropping only crumbs. We have to be willing to gather these crumbs in order to come up with the complete picture, even though we are able to guess at some of the consequences. In all this is a rewarding, if difficult, book to read.
EKW
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Death in Summer is one of the more appropriate titles for a novel I've seen in a while. William Trevor is a gifted writer, one of characteristic styles that are fascinating, illuminating..yet with a dark view of the world that begs for light. The stories of three deaths, bizarrely interrelated in a strange English place, is only a superficial tease of what lies within and beneath this fine novel. The real passings are about the deaths of life views that occur when indescribable losses alter our lives. Trevor has an uncanny ability to vary his vocabulary/tone/philosophical views/visceral descriptions adjusted according to which of his myriad characters is relating a view of the story. Whether the description of a garden is eloquent when from the mind and mouth of the gentrified owners of the mansion where the story takes place, or the interior of a cafe is puncutated with the glassy views of a declining, bosomy "loose woman", or the stagnation of a squalid orphanage is regarded with acceptance by the ne're-do-well young folks of the street - with each of these disparate voices Trevor allows authenticity beyond the abilities of most contemporary authors. At times his stream of conscious style of writing causes the need to retrace pages to make sure where we are, but that is a glory in and of itself. THAT is how submerged the reader becomes when reading this fine book. It has its own life!
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Trevor has succeeded in producing a well-written, well-constructed novel about uninteresting characters. Perhaps the book is simply too spare and short. Robert Graves called the verse of D.H. Lawrence "not poems, but rather outlines for poems." DEATH IN SUMMER strikes me as less a novel than the outline for a novel. To win our sympathy, these dry, pale figures would need more flesh, more color, more background. Understatement is sometimes a literary virtue, but here it's exaggerated to the point of dullness.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the positives above, and disagree strongly with the negatives. He simply made me care about the characters and what they were going through. I suppose I read the book a little too fast, but I don't think I missed much. Unlike lesser books, the ending is completely satisfying and wonderful. Perhaps out of step with the competition, this book is a support to the notion that life, as one lives and learns, is worth the trip.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Miranda on September 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Early in William Trevor's novel, Death in Summer, the male caretaker of the house in which most of the story's action takes place muses about the correlation between horse-racing and a life spent caring for other people's property; a life of servitude but also one of observation. His conclusion is that "Other people's lives, how they are lived and what they are, offer what the vagaries of the turf do: mystery and the pleasure of speculation." Therein lies the pleasure of reading Death in Summer, which offers more observation than commentary,and which tends to show characters' actions first and then only gradually reveal their motives. There is a quiet mystery interwoven into the story, well maintained by Trevor's prose, which is simultaneously simple and beautiful.
Death in Summer is a meloncholy story, which makes sense as the action begins with a death. Letitia, "a person of almost wayward generosity," is killed when a car strikes her bicycle. She leaves behind a husband, Thaddeus and their infant child Georgina. Letitia's death leaves a literal void--now Georgina will grow up without a mother,but she also leaves a symbolic void. Letitia's good nature and uncomplicated love towards her fellow humans is notably absent in the characters that outlive her (with the exception of Albert,whose goodness winds up being just as futile as Letitia's). Pettie, the orphaned girl who interviews for the position of nanny for Georgina, is constantly looking for father figures--older men to fill the void from her past. She falls in love with Thaddeus, but it only leads to a complicated kidnapping plot. Unlike Letitia and Albert, Pettie cannot simply love and wish the best for those she loves.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
William Trevor is my favorite writer. He conveys in simple, clean, but beautiful prose, the complexities of human existence. Having read all of Mr. Trevor's works, this novel is one of my favorites. It is the tragic story of loss and longing, filled with sympathetic characters -- victims and perpetrators. All of the characters are haunted by their particular past, and Mr. Trevor shows how that past impacts both the present and the future. A great novel, and the characters will stay with you long after you have finished the book. I strongly recommend this book (and Willliam Trevor) to anyone who enjoys writers such as Alice Munro or John Cheever.
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