William Trevor lives in England. But he was born, raised and
educated in Ireland. And, like James Joyce, although he left
Ireland, he never stopped writing with an Irish melancholy.
In this novella, Mary Louise Dallon is the youngest of three
in a poor Catholic family, and has slim chances of marrying. Elmer
Quarry, a Protestant and successful draper, . . .
courts her and soon they are married.
Elmer is the sole brother of two grown sisters who live with him
above the store and they are in charge of the shopping, cooking, and
running of the shop. See if you can guess if they welcome Mary Louise
into the fold.
When Mary Louise had been a teen she had thought she might be
in love with her cousin, Robert. He is a sickly child, and she forgets
about him when he drops out of the small school.
Years later she meets him and they find a common thread of friendship
which she badly needs as an antidote for her troubled marriage and
the mean-spirited atmosphere of living with the two sisters.
On a first visit in years to her aunt, she finds Robert still living there
“He sat by a fire in a large untidy room. Tables and armchairs
were covered with drawing of winter trees, and papers with
scribbles in green ink on them, and books. In a window alcove
battalions of toy soldiers were engaged in warfare. Fishing-
rods and nets were a muddle in a corner. Glass doors led to a
conservatory where a vine grew.”
“What do you do all day, Robert?”
“I come downstairs to this room. I’m very fond of this room. I light
the fire when it’s chilly . . .I was explaining how I spend the day
because you asked. I play with soldiers. And read. I read a very
Aunt Emmeline and Robert had gone to Mary Louise’s wedding.
Robert had tried to see her face, but her back had been turned when
he looked. She points out that after the ceremony she had turned
to face everyone in the church . . .
“You were Mrs. Quarry then.”
During the frequent visits to the house, she and Robert wander the
hillsides and he reads to her from Turgenev . . .Fathers and Sons . . .
and these are some of the happiest times of her life.
William Trevor writes such clean text–not a word out of place–and
can convey edginess and strong feelings with his choice and timing
of words and phrases. We are only visitors to his stories–we are on
the outside looking in. And yet his work keeps me spellbound.
Reading Turgenev is one of two novellas in the book titled Two Lives.
I bought the book in Edinburgh last year. You might want to read my
review of the other title Book Review: My House in Umbria by William Trevor.
I highly recommend this book and give it a four button review.