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Two Lives: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria (1991)

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477732,317 (3.79)28
Member:jpmuzzall
Title:Two Lives: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria
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Info:Penguin Books Ltd, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Read in 2011
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Two Lives: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria by William Trevor (1991)

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» See also 28 mentions

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(49) Every time I read one of Trevor's short novels (and all of his are short,) I am reminded that fiction can be art. Not in a gimmicky, reductive, pretentious way a la the last book I read (We The Animals) but in a beautiful, tight, quiet and powerful way. 'Two Lives' is interesting in that the book consists of two seemingly separate novellas, yet the page count doesn't start over with the second and the title clearly is meant to encompass our two female protagonists.

'Reading Turgenev' in my opinion is the stronger novella - a young Irish girl, afraid of leading a too small life, marries a dullard of a man much her senior, to escape the family home. When she finds herself disappointed, she retreats into a fantasy. This is a similar story in 'My House in Umbria,' just a completely different woman in completely different circumstances - but still, retreats into a fantasy life given the ugly realities that have made up her real one. 'Turgenev' was so sad and powerful in Trevor's understated way - you could feel Mary Louise's quiet desperation in her every action and reaction - the writing is just exquisite. I did not enjoy 'Umbria' as much (though I think there is a movie based on it) - Mrs. Delahunty was harder to empathize with and her fantastic musings were not as affecting for me. This novella brought the rating down a bit for me as I was ready for this tale to wrap up. And I thought the wrap up would be better than it was.

Overall, this is lovely fiction -- Memorable, powerful, dramatic tension and crystalline prose with remarkable few pages. Perhaps the best living writer? 'The Story of Lucy Gault' remains my favorite. ( )
  jhowell | Oct 21, 2018 |
Two novellas, of which the first only was short-listed for the Booker Prize. Reading Turgenev is a very moving, tonally exquisite novella about a young girl from a dying protestant community in Ireland, trapped in an unhappy marriage in one time frame, and about to be let out of mental hospital into care in the community in the novel's present. As the onion layers of the novel are revealed, a narrative of love and freedom, found in the most unexpected of places reveals itself in Mary Louise's brief love affair and her collusion in her capture. A surrounding cast of characters in the narrow community, claustrophobic and closed, act as a chorus of counterpoints. For me this was much better for being juxtaposed with My House in Umbria - a first person narrative with a crackingly unreliable narrator. 'Mrs Delahunty', a lady of dubious past, doubtful name and a taste for the local hooch, runs an occasional guesthouse in Umbria on her shadily gotten gains. A train crash brings her together with a small band of survivors and begins a story that might be entirely fantasy or perhaps, on some deep level, true. Women's lives, and unexpected ones, are at the heart of each of these.
1 vote otterley | Jun 3, 2015 |
I'd never heard of William Trevor but I enjoyed the two novellas here very much. The first, "Reading Turgenov", drew me in quickly. It made me think somewhat of Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing, a young wife driven to madness by her situation. Here it is hard to put a finger on what it is. Certainly you are not meant to even remotely like her two harpy sisters-in-law but her weak husband and reticent family are also part of it. I liked the way it moved bewteen times in the chapters, slowly bringing the past and present together. Dark and more than a little depressing but well done. The second, "My House in Umbria" was a bit more difficult. I was unsure what to expect and I think the narrator as the mildly delusional Mrs. Delahunty made it hard to follow the ins and outs. I couldn't really get a grip on her, perhaps that was the point. Well done as well but a bit more enigmatic. Worth seeking out more by this author.
1 vote amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
I admire Trevor's writing but found reading both of these stories somewhat painful. Both of them give you much to contemplate when you are finished, though, and the author does a wonderful job of giving each central character a depth far beyond what you expect. ( )
1 vote theonetruesteph | Mar 30, 2013 |
William Trevor is a fine writer, similar to Coetzee and Ishiguro in the arts of understatement and subtlety. Each word is perfectly placed and his sense of structure is unerring.
Two Lives (1991) consists of two novellas: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria. The former is the story of an Irish girl who enters into an unhappy marriage with an older man. She escapes by carrying on an imaginary relationship with her dead cousin.
My House in Umbria is narrated by the eccentric but admirable Mrs Delahunty. After a bomb explodes in her train compartment, Mrs D takes the survivors home with her.
Both novellas are compelling and moving. I imagine this lovely book would appeal to a wide range of readers. ( )
2 vote amandameale | May 5, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140153721, Paperback)

The two lives of the title are brilliantly illuminated in a pair of short novels, Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria, that exemplify the biting, tragicomic work of this Anglo-Irish master. The first novel is a sorrowful love story, the second a sort of thriller. Each of Trevor's two heroines is trapped in her life, one in Ireland and the other in Italy, and each has some experience of the transformative power of literature, a subject the author knows at first hand. Nobody can break your heart with such laconic precision. To be read with Bushmill's in hand.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:38 -0400)

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