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3.4 out of 5 stars12
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on November 5, 2001
William Trevor has been highly recommended by people I respect, and I do plan on reading more of him. DEATH IN SUMMER is the first of his works I've encountered and while it did not quite live up to what I expected, that's not to say it isn't good. As I read it, I kept imagining it as a contemporary British television dramatization, a medium to which it would translate well, if not better than the page. The story is spare yet complicated: A new widower with an infant interviews and decides not to hire a nanny, instead accepting his mother-in-law's offer to come care for the child. Unknown to him, one of the girls interviewed and not hired as a nanny becomes obsessed with him, interjecting into his life unforeseen consequences, forcing him to confront the emotional isolation in which he had long taken refuge. The characters are fully drawn, as are the settings. The sentences are graceful. The movement of the action is a bit off, spending a little too much time away from the protagonist at times. It can be very quiet, too; doesn't eat its own scenery. In the end, though, it successfully conveys its themes, especially the observation of how so much of our knowledge about others' lives is gathered in eavesdropping or guessing, never with the complete information.
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on April 22, 2000
This is a novel I admire very much. I've just finished reading it a second time in less than six months and I continue to find it profound and extremely moving. I had no idea when I signed on to this site I'd find it in need of defending.
Trevor's work is deceptive, that's certainly clear. I've become familiar with his work in the last few years, and have come to think of him as a writer who makes truly subversive use of a wide range of literary conventions. In the case of Death in Summer, it is the suspense plot he is employing. As in previous works -- I'm thinking along the lines of Felicia's Journey, "Gilbert's Mother," and "The Telephone Game," -- Trevor provides the reader enough suspense to access the characters and story, but ultimately offers a higher, more thematically rich set of conflicts to take its place. The suspense is meant only to assist.
This will lose (judging from the reviews) certain kinds of readers. I can imagine it's frustrating to first and foremost want plot, but to be given theme as your main concern instead. But even that is not a fair description of Death in Summer.
Trevor alerts the reader in the first chapter as to the real substance of his story. What happens in chapter one is the reader's first alert that the book is more than the story of a missing baby.
Thaddeus' wife, who is dead when the book begins, is featured prominently in the first chapter via a flashback. She makes what is to be a pivotal and (potentially) instructive act of generosity. She convinces her husband to help an old friend of his, a woman she has never met (and whom she has likely guessed was once her husband's lover). It is an act of genuine humanity, a kind of humanity that her husband (who has lived his entire life in a state of lovelessness) does not understand on page 10, but may or may not on page 200. THIS is the real suspense of Trevor's novel. Will people grow in time to save one another?
What could be more suspenseful than that?
This subversion of suspense aside, the novel is a challenging read on other levels as well. For instance, Trevor has chosen an extremely useful prose style for the book, but one which is dense and complex--a meaningful challenge if you're tuned into the book's themes, but something of a chore if you're not. As his characters' pasts so much inform their present sensibilities, the prose itself does not make clear distinctions between moments in time. It is easy to be momentarily lost, but this is necessary, it seems to me, to blend time in a way that gives us the characterization and thematic support Trevor is after.
The book is magnificent in its writing and humbling in its themes. Trevor clearly wants the world to be a more compassionate place, which is not always the case with writers today. It seems a shame that there might be readers who read this novel passively and then discourage others from trying it--others who might have given it more care and attention, who might have been moved and inspired by it.
Try this book. Test your tolerance for graceful, subtle, humane writing. Reward Trevor for his efforts and he will reward you for yours.
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on July 21, 2000
I read this book while on a recent vacation to Great Britain and maybe my favorable impression of it has more to do with being in London as I was reading it. While it does not have the power of "Felicia's Journey" it is still William Trevor at his best. Those looking for a slam-bang mystery novel full of adventure and many car-chases etc. will not find this their cup of team. Trevor is to be read slowly and often to be reread. But the characters do ring true and the images that he paints remain vivid in my mind. For those who have enjoyed Trevor's writing in the past, this will not disappoint. For those who are reading him for the first time, this does take some patience and much concentration. But it is well-worth the effort
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on July 3, 2001
Fully realized characters and a plot that turns on the cause and effect results of a random accident are woven into this remarkable novel. The nature of inocence is explored through characters who are victimized by circumstance and others whose acts are based in past trauma when inocence was lost. This story and the people in it will stay with you for a long while. Highly recomended.
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