Love and Summer
In the public square of rural Rathmoye, once a mill town, stands a bronze statue dedicated to a bony-featured, twenty-two-year-old Thomas John Kinsella, hero of the 1798 rebellion, who “Died for Ireland.” This memorial hints at some of the persisting divisions that have separated the local families, English from Irish, Protestant from Catholic, landed gentry from business class, and shopkeepers from farmers. In his consistently understated novel Love and Summer, William Trevor has masterfully filled out that rich social tapestry by focusing on the inhabitants of five houses that serve as locales for the action.
The story begins at No 4 The Square, a former boardinghouse now run as a bed and breakfast and the site for a reception after the funeral of the socially prominent Eileen Connulty. A Catholic bishop has presided over the well-attended Mass for Eileen, who married into property, owning not only the bed and breakfast but also a coal company, a public house, and the local cinema. The deceased leaves behind adult twin children, a son and daughter, who, though they continue to live under the same roof, barely exchange a word with each other.
Joseph Paul, Eileen’s son and decided favorite, had hoped to become a priest. Whereas most Irish mothers would have been ecstatic over the prospect, however, Eileenperhaps to keep him as her owndissuaded him from following a vocation at which she thought he would not succeed. Now he manages the family’s coal business, with considerable help from Bernadette O’Keefe, who, despite her unspoken desires, realizes that Joseph Paul is forever joined by an “iron bond” to his mother.
Eileen was despised by her daughter, who is known simply as Miss Connulty. Her mother forbade her Christian name from being uttered in the house twenty years ago, after Miss Connulty became pregnant by a married man who then went off to war and later returned to his wife. After Mr. Connulty took his daughter to Dublin for an abortion, his wife burned the tainted bedsheets, condemned him as a murderer, consigned him to a bed in the attic, and refused to be buried next to him or share a gravestone, trusting that she would never meet up with him in the afterlife. Miss Connulty, denied any life until now, revels in being the new mistress of No 4 and wearing pieces from her mother’s considerable collection of jewelry.
Florian Kilderry has come to town to dispose of his late parents’ property. He intends to take pictures of the burned-out movie theater (where an alcoholic Mr. Connulty died seventeen years ago) but, to the consternation of many, winds up photographing the funeral. Unlike the Connultys, Florian’s parents were devoted to each other. His mother was from an aristocratic family in Genoa, and his father met and courted her when, as a soldier in Italy, he became separated from his regiment. Florian’s mother even gave up her Catholic faith so she could be buried with her husband in the Protestant cemetery.
Both of Florian’s parents were talented watercolorists, and their paintings became so much alike that it is difficult even for Florian to tell which of them created a given painting. They frequently opened their stately home, Shelhanagh, to partygoers who came down from Dublin for dances and lavish entertainments. Now rundown and in disrepair, its gardens full of rotting fruit, Shelhanagh is to be sold to pay off debts.
Although Florian did not become the artist his parents would have liked, they (unlike Miss Connulty’s parents) never expressed disappointment in him. He became a lover of reading and even tried his hand at writing stories in bound record books, though they remained uncompleted. Having taken up photography quite by accident, Florian judges himself pretty much a failure at it, believing “the images he achieved were too slight, each one too ordinary a statement.” He intends to go into self-imposed exile in Scandinavia, taking with him only the watercolors in all their “faded dazzle,” his father’s watch, and his mother’s ring.
Florian is an object of intense curiosity among the mourners and of immediate attraction to Ellie Dillahan, whose attention is drawn to his “delicate hands.” Ellie is associated with two places: the foundling home where she grew up and the...
(The entire section is 1769 words.)