Death In Summer
by William Trevor
214 pages (1998)
well-written but odd story
Trevor’s Death in Summer is a well-written but odd story to which I found myself somewhat indifferent. Set in contemporary rural England, the tale revolves around two young people released into the world, recently discharged from a kind of asylum for young people, The Morning Star. We aren’t told exactly what kind of institution it is, however, based on the characters’ memories of it, it is assumed a mental institution.
After living in an abandoned shack following their release, the boy and the girl who have grown up as friends, try to build normal lives in society. Albert, responsible, kind and sensitive, secures a job washing grafiti off walls and boarding with a middle-aged invalid, as her live-in caretaker. While Pettie, impressionable, brooding, flighty, and prone to acts of petty thievery, decides to apply for a nanny position at a manor — the home of wealthy widower Thaddeus Davenant and his small infant daughter. When Thaddeus’ mother-in-law decides to move into the manor to care for the child, there is no longer need for a nanny, leaving Pettie jobless. Unstable and imagining herself in love with Thaddeus (who she has only met once), Pettie sets out to prove her love and compassion for him and the infant, in her own distorted manner. Albert is instinctively protective of his vulnerable friend Pettie, and ultimately tries to help her out of the desperate situation she soon finds herself in.
As the story unravels in third-person, the reader is afforded a glimpse into each of the characters’ minds. Since two of the main characters are afflicted with mental infirmities, the barrage of thoughts and purposes can get a bit confusing. The reader may also find the dialogue and certain details a bit puzzling at times, if they are unfamiliar with certain English sayings or allusions.
Aside from its unique perspective, Death in Summer exhibited an over abundance of unnecessary information, thoughts and observations which often detracted from the thought at hand, and diverted any interest I may have had in a current scene or plot turn in the novel. Granted, it was not a “dull” read, but not an overly memorable one either… “lukewarm” immediately comes to mind. I feel the story-line itself had a lot of potential that could have been further developed into something more rich and impressive. Ultimately, it failed to involve and capture me.