Setting his story among the bucolic landscapes of rural Ireland, William Trevor courses through the peaks and troughs of an unlikely romance, two people drawn together, forced to grapple with the inevitable small town innuendo particularly that of the officious publican and her brother. It is an exaggeration to say that nothing much happens in the sleepy town of Rathmoye even as most of the townspeople continue to live there. The story begins with a funeral Mass for Mrs. Connulty, and while recollections are shared and her life lauded, a young man whose name is Florian Kilderry in a pale tweed suit surreptitiously photographed the scene. Ostensibly coming to photograph the town's burnt-out cinema, dark haired and in his early twenties, and with hints of stylishness in his demeanor, Florien is undoubtedly a stranger in Rathmoye.
Meanwhile, orphaned at an early age, Ellie has been sent to housekeep for a kindly red-headed farmer. His sisters had found her and bought her to the farm with her belongings in a white wooden box that had to be returned. Bullish and burly, the salt-of-the earth, Dillahan ekes out a living on his farm, haunted by the tragedy seven years ago which left him both widowed and childless. Try as he might he could never prevent the memory from nagging at him. A decent man, respected and sober, lately it has become apparent that Dillahan hasn't been comfortable in himself since the tragedy he had suffered.
Back in Rathmoye two other characters move Trevor's melancholy tale forward: Mrs. Connulty's son and daughter who run their bed-and-breakfast stop-over for commercial travelers. Once close companions neither brother or sister communicated with one another for weeks on end, "that he was despised by his sister was one of the blaming's variations." While Miss Connulty has a ceremony in the afternoons, adorning herself dabbed on eau-de-Cologne, and powder to her nose and cheeks, trying on her mother's jewelry while also remembering when as a girl she had been visited by Arthur Tetlow a veterinarian who was trapped in a marriage in Sheffield. Eventually disappearing into the war, Arthur took with him the promises he had made in good faith and the future that had talked about. She's a woman who feels that life had passed her by, even as her brother Joseph a lanky, weasel-faced man is locked within his own self doubts. A practical man of business, publican and coal merchant, he tries to keep their lives afloat, charging what he must.
It's Miss Connulty who first spies Ellie who saw the man who had asked her directions on the morning of the funeral and it doesn't take long for a romance to flourish. Ellie and Florian seem total opposites, Ellie, an artless country girl while Florian is urbane and sophisticated, born into the solitude of an only child, and an artistic drifter who lives alone in a country house of little architectural distinction, looking down on its own wide lake, inherited from his Irish father and Italian mother. It doesn't take long for Ellie to see Florian as one who observes the travails of the others, with his smile and the colorful tie as she smiles at him at the Cash and Carry, and later standing with him the sunshine. Perhaps he is an escape from her life of collecting eggs. cleaning the henhouse, and tethering the goat. Yet Florian seems to enlarge at Ellie's expense, both figuratively and literally as he begins to take the advice he is offered, to sell his house and to become an exile himself with or without Ellie.
Confronted by the possibility of true love Ellie can't quite grasp the possibilities of freedom with Florian and she wonders if she indeed has feelings for him. Meanwhile, the slurp of romance continues and Florian wonders of Scandinavia might be his place of exile. Tossed by the experience of first love, Ellie hasn't been aware that she doesn't love her husband, "love hadn't come into it, it's brightly visible signs burning perpetually." Throughout her stream of recollection, no matter how strange he sometimes seemed, she felt as if her whole life she had known Florian. Certainly, Miss Cummalty's is determined to sabotage the romance, her bristling imagination convincing her that Florian is already a plunderer. Soon her outrage becomes anger as she feels a wave of pity for Ellie as once, so wretchedly she had felt for herself.
Trevor gorgeously portrays the bursts of romance against the insularity of small-town life, the rising ire of people like Miss Connulty and the ramifications of the other village gossipers. From the outset their fate seems cast. As Florian prepares for his ride through the night to Dublin, the past perpetually keeps him in its grip. Where Ellie must learn to accept the burden of having a perfect faith, Trevor conveys her despair with all of its bitterness and melancholy, her life governed less by misfortune's contact than by some law of its own. With the scented air, the meadows on summer nights, the call of the birds, the lavender the butterflies, the crab apple orchids, the drooping foxgloves and cow-parsley, even the dust gathering in Rathmoye's streets at the end of summer, the author portrays beautifully the lovers' relationship against a haunting rural landscape. Mike Leonard October 09.