Recommended Reads: Two Lives

This week’s Recommended Read comes from Sophie Povey, our Assistant Development Manager, who has been captivated by William Trevor’s moving volume about the easily blurred boundary between imagination and reality, Two Lives .  

Over the Christmas break, I read William Trevor’s Two Lives. It was a Christmas gift from my mother, who told me as I opened it that it had been the mutual love of its first story, Reading Turgenev, that had cemented her friendship with her closest friend, Ian; ‘It’s just beautiful Soph’. I’d read ‘An Idyll in Winter’ in the short story collection recently given away by the Guardian and loved it, so Two Lives immediately went to the top of the pile.

It is beautiful. Trevor is deeply concerned by the disparity that can develop between the life that you’ve imagined for yourself and the reality that you find yourself in, a situation that many of us will certainly have known at some point in our lives. In Reading Turgenev, the gentle, young Mary Louise aspires to work in the local town and to become self-sufficient, which leads her to marry the local draper, Elmer Quarry. The marriage soon beings to deteriorate, with the constant presence of his overbearing sisters and Elmer’s developing alcoholism creating a distance within a relationship that had never been close to begin with. Mary Louise finds herself inhabiting an unbearable, lonely reality that only her secret, unspoken worlds can attempt to liberate, and she falls deeper and deeper into these fantasies as the years pass. It is a very powerful story, one that forced me to think deeply about how vital it is that you try to deal with your problems as they appear through sharing them with others.

It may sound rather bleak in its overview, but I found Trevor’s poignant account of Mary Louise’s love for her late cousin and its ability to redeem this ‘wasted’ life the most striking element of the story, restoring her despite his absence. It was a great read, and definitely a book that I shall return to.

 Two Lives, William Trevor, Penguin (2010)

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