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.
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