This book, a 1991 Booker nominee is actually two novels in the same volume. The first novel, Reading Turgenev, tells the story of Mary Louise Dallon. She is a young Protestant girl from a town that is mostly Catholic. One of the few men in town who are also Protestant is Elmer Quarry, a local shopkeeper. He is in his forties when he notices Mary Louise and decides to marry her. Young and naive, Mary Louise accepts his proposal and goes to live in his loveless house with two spinster sisters who have perfected the art of daily intimidation and disparagment. The only happiness is Mary Louise's life are her Sunday visits to her aunt and cousin. Her cousin introduces her to a life based on nature and literature and introduces her to Turgenev, one of his favorite authors. When this friendship is taken away, Mary Louise has a breakdown and spends years in the local home for women in this situation.
The second book, My House In Umbria, tells the story of Mrs. Delahunty, a middle-aged woman who runs a small tourist home in Umbria. She has come from Africa with a younger man whose idea it was to buy and run the home and who serves as the organizer and butler. After moving there, Mrs. Delahunty discovers a talent for writing romances and becomes a successful author. Going on a shopping trip, she is involved in a train wreck with many fatalities. The survivors come to stay with her for their recuperation. There is the General, who lost his wife, a young German man who lost his girlfriend, and a three year old girl who lost her parents and her brother. The four form a friendship that helps them all in their recuperation.
William Trevor is a prolific author who whose books often speak of the Irish experience. His talent for creating characters is amazing and readers will remember these individuals long after the books are finished. The two novels both share the lives of women whose early dreams were never realized but who learned to pull satisfaction from the life they were granted. This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.