The Love Department by William Trevor #williamtrevor23 #readingirelandmonth23

‘I love you’, said Eve

‘My dear, of course you do,’ said Septimus Tuam. ‘Why ever shouldn’t you?’

The titular ‘Love Department’ of William Trevor’s 1966 novel is run by the inimitable Lady Dolores Bourhardie, a firm believer in the sanctity of love within marriage. Lady Dolores runs the advice pages of a London paper, whose circulation has increased fourfold thanks to her advice and ministrations. She has become something of a celebrity, but her happiness is blighted by one man – the wonderfully named Septimus Tuam – who is running amok among the married women of Wimbledon, stealing their hearts and then the contents of their purses.She has the letters to prove it.

Lady Dolores needs someone to find out where Septimus Tuam is, and put an end to his mayhem. Enter Edward Blakeston-Smith, a young man who has recently had a stay in a monastery to escape his fear of advertising hoardings. Determined to make something of his life, he comes to the Love Department looking for a job and Lady Dolores sees in him the innocence that ‘can match the black heart of Septimus Tuam’.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Septimus is in his Putney bedsit, planning his next move. His most recent conquest has gone on holiday to New York, so he has turned his attentions to Eve Bolsover, whose marriage to husband James is on the wane, despite his recent promotion to the board of his business. Will Edward be the one to finally put an end to the reign of Septimus Tuam and bring stability to the marriages of the middle classes?

The Love Department echoes the structure of Trevor’s previous two novels. Here, once again, is a disparate group of characters whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the actions of a selfish trickster. Trevor is a superb stylist and is especially adept at creating vivid characters in the space of just a few pages. Edward’s investigations bring him into contact with a range of Wimbledon folk.  He falls in with the Bolsover’s headstrong cleaner Mrs Hoop, who hates her employers and is trying to get her drinking buddy Mr Beach to include her in his will. Mr Lake, a colleague of James Bolsover’s has a scheme of his own, trying to discredit Bolsover with the board in order to steal his position. The elusive Septimus Tuam, for all his skill with the ladies, is less nefarious villain and more of a lazy opportunist, taking what he can where he can, regardless of the destruction he leaves behind.

The plot moves along at a cracking pace as Edward tracks his elusive quarry. The theme of love lost within matrimony is a sour one, but the muted farce and dark humour leaven what could have been a moralistic narrative. Trevor’s dialogue crackles and a set piece involving a pet monkey at a dinner-party is a bravura piece of writing. He blunts his comic edge with a note of moral concern for his characters and draws out a sense of pathos, in particular when dealing with the loneliness of the housewives of Wimbledon, where the life they always dreamed of is proving less satisfying than they could have imagined.

Trevor embodies a great sense of the surreal in The Love Department, particularly with the character of Edward Blakeston-Smith, who ultimately finds real life and real relationships a little too much to handle. I didn’t find it quite as satisfying as The Boarding House or The Old Boys, possibly because the action wasn’t quite as focused as in those novels, but it is still an entertaining read.

Kim at Reading Matters and Jacqui at JacquiWine’s Journal have also posted great reviews of The Love Department.

Next month why not join me as I read The Hill Bachelors by William Trevor, a collection of short stories published in 2000. Alternatively, Kim will be reading his 1973 novel Elizabeth Alone. You can check out our full schedule for the year on our launch post, or simply read any book by William Trevor and use the hashtag #williamtrevor2023

a year with william trevor Ireland Month Irish Literature

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

10 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I have never read a William Trevor book, but this review has intrigued me. I will have to see if my library has any of his books. Great review, Cathy.


  2. I love the sound of this! It sounds a lot of fun, even if it’s not quite as strong as the previous two reads. Your review put me in mind of Muriel Spark, but this seems warmer in tone than she can be, if I’ve got that right?


  3. Great review, Cathy. I actually liked this one more than the previous two. I thought it would make a superb movie… it’s just like an Ealing comedy in so many ways. The scene with the monkey still makes me titter to myself 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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