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Two Lives: Reading Turgenev, and, My House in Umbria

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  448 ratings  ·  58 reviews
This book comprises two novels, "Reading Turgenev" and "My House in Umbria", which evoke the landscapes of Ireland and Italy, respectively. The stories are linked by a common theme - the importance of fiction in two women's lives. "Reading Turgenev" was shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize.
Hardcover, First American Edition, 375 pages
Published 1991 by Viking
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(showing 1-30 of 911)
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·Karen·
Two women, both fifty-six (pure coincidence that I’m reading this), who both, for a time at least, live in fantasy worlds, blurring the border between the place they live in their heads and the world outside. One of them saves herself, the other makes herself ridiculous, but helps to rescue people too, offers them a place to heal. William Trevor cannot put a foot wrong. There's not an untidy phrase to be found. Controlled, but not tight.

I re-read Reading Turgenev. The journey is quite a differen
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Fionnuala
What intrigued me most about these two beautifully written novellas, Reading Turgenev and My House In Umbria, packaged together under the modest title Two Lives, was William Trevor’s motivation in writing them.
While reading, my mind was teeming with questions: why did Trevor decide to look so closely at the very different lives of two women in the year 1987?
What is the significance of them both being 56 years old at that time and both arriving at defining moments in their exterior as well as i
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Tony
Apr 20, 2012 Tony rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: irish
I don’t think I want to meet William Trevor. Which might seem odd because he is one of my favorite authors and the picture of him at the back of every one of his books reveals the face of a kindly, intelligent, slightly amused, older gentleman. Ah, but don’t let the crinkly eyes and the tweed hat fool you. I feel fairly certain that with the briefest of handshakes he would make note of the too-soft hands. The merest chat, and he would have the manic cadence of speech and that annoying impediment ...more
Mosca
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This is arguably a single superbly written novel. But it is composed of two different novellas that William Trevor wrote at different times and later chose to combine. His talents as a writer are displayed here at their finest. Today I am feeling that after thirty years of reading his works, this is his best.

But as a reader (and human being) who learned to love the characters deeply, I found that this book can be very hard to take in emotionally. T
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William1
Two short novels here. I read Reading Turgenev some years ago and liked it a lot.

Just finished My House in Umbria. There are inordinately beautiful discursive passages in the early going. Our narrator, Mrs Delahunty, English by birth and owner of said house, is on painkillers in the hospital after a traumatic event. She simultaneously recollects her abusive childhood, her years as owner of the Rose Café, a period of cohabitation with the disappointing Mr Chubbs, her rise to fame as an author of
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TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez
Every time the great Irish writer, William Trevor publishes something new, critics everywhere say it's the greatest thing he's ever written. And it is. Until he writes something else, that is.

Two Lives, however, has won a special place in my heart, and while I love everything Trevor writes, I doubt that anything will ever top Two Lives for me.

Two Lives is composed of two elegant and elegiac novels, each centering on a fiftysomething woman and each taking place during the summer of 1987.

At first
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Suzanne
"Two Lives" is actually two novellas in one book. Both are narrated by a 56 year old woman and both take place in 1987. "Reading Turgenev" is the better of the two but both are superb.
"Reading Turgenev" is the story of a young woman growing up in rural Ireland in the early 1950's. Mary Louise is one of three children living on a family farm located on the outskirts of a small Irish country village. Being Protestant in a Catholic town isolates her even further, requiring that she attend a speci
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Elaine
These two novellas by William Trevor include razor-sharp observations in the smallest of worlds -- small family, in a small village, in a small country -- yet brimming over with universal feelings and truths. In "Reading Turgenev" Mary Louise is trapped in a loveless marriage to a milquetoast draper who lives with his two sisters (think Cinderella) who torment her. When she visits her ailing cousin Robert, she is reminded how she loved him in grade school and, as he reads her passages from Russi ...more
SilverRaindrops
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here.
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Two years ago I've first read a book by William Trevor. It was called "Love And Summer", and I was rather bored while reading it, as you can see from my review here. I also gave it five stars.
I've reread that book a lot since then, and I've slowly come to love William Trevor's gift for precise sentences, unhurried storytelling and taking a story all the way to its conclusion.
These traits are at work in
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Laurie
William Trevor writes in a straightforward manner. The characters are developed very well with detailed relationships among them. Settings are easy to visualize. The prose seems so simple. It is very subtle. These two stories are the type that infiltrate your mind! Whether you are immersed in the reading, or, going about the daily routine, there is something that makes you want to keep reading, or, get back to reading the book.
I won't go in to any summaries of the two stories as others on Good R
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James
Two Lives consists of two novellas, Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria. The latter is the tale of a storyteller. She is known by many names but mostly by the appellation Mrs. Delahunty. The titular house is an important character as well being the locus of most of the story when an apparent terrorist action leaves several people convalescing with Mrs. Delahunty. William Trevor draws the characters with care, but Mrs. Delahunty who writes stories and shares her dreams stands above them all. ...more
Charles Puskas
Two Lives: Reading Turgenev & My House in Umbria - two novels by William Trevor. Both are intriguing, evocative, imaginative, and haunting. Trevor writes majestically, but is determined to wring your heart. In Reading Turgenev, an Irish country girl is trapped in a loveless marriage with an older man and his two hyper-critical sisters, but finds release through secret meetings with her beloved cousin, Robert, who shares her passion for nature and Russian novels. My House in Umbria tells of E ...more
Megan
The first (short-ish) novel in this collection, Reading Turgenev, is incredibly good. Trevor is a great writer. The second novel, My House In Umbria, was disturbing to me, but I'm bad at liking stories with narrators I have no sympathy for or with. I almost wish I'd stopped at the end of the first novel, but he is such a good writer that I couldn't help myself. Wondering what the next of his books that I read should be. Suggestions?
Lew Pepper
The life of a woman with few options who chooses marriage in a dreary rural town in mid 20th century Ireland. As with many stories that chart a similar landscape the marriage fares poorly but the denouement of the principals and their eventual coming together is as sad as it is reaffirming. Trevor is a master writer and storyteller.
Kris
Reading Turgenev is the my favorite Trevor story by far. My house in Umbria was okay, but Reading Turgenev is Trevor at his best showing how the small choices we make in life can lead to so much. The writing is flawless.
Melanie
Reading Turgenev, which is one of the novellas in this collection, is truly wonderful.
It tells the story of Mary Louise, trapped in a loveless marriage with an older man and juxtaposes this with a man who shares her love of Russian novels, her true love.
The characterisation, as is always the case in Trevor's writing, is excellent.
I found it extremely poignant that Mary Louise's feelings of true love and ultimate loss, were misinterpreted by those around her, as insanity.
A beautiful and moving
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Frank
I first read these two novellas about twenty-years ago and took the greatest pleasure from renewing my acquaintance with the first, "Reading Turgenev". The setting is not unlike Trevor's most recent novel, Love and Summer: small-town rural Ireland in the mid-century. Of the characters too there are certain similarities. Mary Louise is not unlike Ellie Dillahan; the cousin Robert shares similarities with Florian Kilderry, as do their respective husbands also. It is almost as if Trevor wished to r ...more
Mmars
Having just finished Trevor's award-winning "The Story of Lucy Gault" I turned to this earlier work. Although I have read only the first of the two "lives" - Reading Turgenev - it was an interesting way to read Trevor. I found his writing skills to have deepened over the years - in style, complexity of character, and power of description. Both "Lucy" and "Turgenev" concern an isolated woman.

Here, Mary Louise, becomes isolated through marriage of convenience to an older man. He is not a bad man,
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Mandy Jo
This week’s headline? dressing for him/consumed by imagination

Why this book? great-aunt recommended author/and he's Irish

Which book format? cheap at Half-Price/double the fun

Primary reading environment? bedtime at home/day in airports

Any preconceived notions? for old ones/bog o' details

Identify most with? Mary Louise Dallon/Mrs. Emily Delahunty

Three little words? “smelt of poverty"/"faith in time"

Goes well with? rissoles = meat pies?/packet of MS

Recommend this to? my late grandmother/newly wed f
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Di
Two novellas. I particularly loved the first one Reading Turgenev a very sad story set in a small rural town in England in the 1950s. The characters and setting were alive. Mary Louise, fearful of being trapped unwed on the family farm, agreed to marry a much older man. The marriage of convenience is hell for both of them, made worse by living in his family home in company with his two vicious spinster sisters who make Mary Louise's life a misery that finds its only retreat in the attic. She dis ...more
Marcia Forecki
William Trevor is "the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language.“ The New Yorker.

Two Lives, is a pair of novellas, published together in 1991: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria. The book was short listed for the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award, and Reading Turgenev was short listed for the Man Booker award.

Trevor’s characters are often people who find themselves trapped by their circumstances, buried alive in effect. In Reading Turgenev, we first meet Mary L
...more
Ben G
* Two novellas that star female protagonists carrying secrets, unsure of their own narrative place in the worlds only partly of their choosing. In both cases, their foreigners in their own lives.

* That said, the link between the two works is pretty tenuous -- I suspect this is a publisher-driven marriage of two pieces written around the same time.

* If you're short on time, "Reading Turgenev" is the stronger of the novellas. "My House in Umbria" played with romance novel conventions in an enterta
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Lorna
Two novels in one book. Two women's lives in the 1980's. Both women 56 years old.
Sharp and edgy and probably not a read for everyone but.........the author succeeds in drawing you into these women's lives in a way I have not experienced in a long time. The madness and love (or lack of) culminates in a rich and rewarding reading experience.
Marisa
I am sad to say I did not enjoy this work as much as others. I find portrayals of women as feeble minded very difficult to relate to.
Paul Long
Two stories about women with depressing lives who lock into a fantasy world of their own making. Loved the first story, Reading Turgenev. The second story, My House in Unbria, was weird and confusing, and I found myself truly disliking the narrator and main character.
Velvetink
Donated to Smith Family charity march 2015
Paul
Reading Turgenev, the first of these two novellas, is beautiful and crushing, ultimately - Trevor is masterful at evoking - a little at a time - the collapse of a woman's soul and mind in an unhappy marriage...
The Tuscany story is the basis of a film starring Maggie Smith - Trevor's version is better than the film (which is quite good) - his language somehow evoked the pace and feel of Tuscany/Italy, and the story is a graceful, assured revelation of aging, and how gentle concern can heal onesel
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Manda Graham
I finished Reading Turgenev, but could get to the end of My House in Umbria, as the story just seemed ridiculous from the train crash onwards. I really wanted to love these two novellas, but found them both hard to get into. The layering of the situations in both stories was had to grasp at times, maybe I was tired, but this didn't help. That said I did enjoy Reading Turgenev.

I am interested to read other books by Trevor as I did enjoy his style.
Jill Rossiter
This is actually two novellas combined into one book. The first is better than the second, I think. Both are about women. The first is entrancing, well-written, but in the second, the change in the main character is a little unbelievable. We don't find until about half way through that the narrator is unreliable, and she becomes so quite suddenly, with no explanation. I really like Trevor, and this is worth reading for the first story alone.
Susanna
Trevor was recommended to me by Antonya Nelson during a writing workshop. Did not disappoint. Deceptively simple; the writing is quite astounding (minus Trevor's predilection for passive voice). Will look for a collection of his short stories next, since along with Munro, Antonya Nelson suggested Trevor is a contemporary master of the short. If these two novellas are any indication of his skill, she seems right on the money.
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William Trevor, KBE grew up in various provincial towns and attended a number of schools, graduating from Trinity College, in Dublin, with a degree in history. He first exercised his artistry as a sculptor, working as a teacher in Northern Ireland and then emigrated to England in search of work when the school went bankrupt. He could have returned to Ireland once he became a successful writer, he ...more
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