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Two Lives

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  519 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
William Trevor's astonishing range as a writer--his humor, subtlety, and compassionate grasp of human behavior--is fully demonstrated in these two short novels. In Reading Turgenev, a lonely country girl escapes her loveless marriage in the arms of a bookish young man. In My House in Umbria, a former madam befriends the other survivors of a terrorist bombing with surprisin ...more
Paperback, 375 pages
Published August 1st 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1991)
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May 12, 2016 Dolors rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Straddlers of two worlds
Recommended to Dolors by: Vit Babenco
Shelves: read-in-2016
Two women.
Two lives.
Multiple realities.

“Two Lives” couldn’t be a more befitting title for this book, for it consists of two stories narrated by middle-aged women who review past events to make sense of their dismal present. Such title could also be interpreted as the alternative existences both protagonists create in their minds to cope with the unsparing reality that has robbed them of their youthful illusions.
Told in the first-person narrative, the reader is dragged away in a deluge of unrelia
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
Dec 13, 2012 ·Karen· rated it really liked it
Shelves: ireland
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
Apr 20, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 06, 2014 Mosca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-be-re-read

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
Vit Babenco
May 20, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
“A person’s life isn’t orderly, it runs about all over the place, in and out through time. The present’s hardly there; the future doesn’t exist. Only love matters in the bits and pieces of a person’s life.”
Love may make one happy or else love may bring unhappiness: the heroine’s marriage turns into an excruciating disaster so she tries to hide in her dreamworld but a dreamworld is so brittle…
Such is a life in Reading Turgenev.
“Once, somewhere, I have seen a painted frieze continuing around the i
Jul 04, 2011 William1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 20-ce, uk
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
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
Nov 02, 2009 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish-writing
"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
Nov 06, 2014 Elaine rated it it was amazing
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
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here.

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
Jan 08, 2015 Laurie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2014
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
Aug 28, 2013 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-lit, novella
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
Aug 26, 2009 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 08, 2008 Lew Pepper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Kristy Ramirez
Aug 26, 2009 Kristy Ramirez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Deborah Schuff
Jul 14, 2015 Deborah Schuff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Two Lives consists of two short novels: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria. Reading Turgenev is set in Ireland and revolves around one young woman's choice to marry an older businessman and her subsequent regret. She falls in love with her cousin and ends up dreaming her life away. My House in Umbria is set in Italy where an older woman, having been in an accident and who opens her home to three others harmed in the same accident, mulls over her past life and romanticizes about her guests.

Jan 09, 2015 Melanie rated it it was amazing
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
Charles Puskas
Jul 02, 2015 Charles Puskas rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 12, 2012 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-authors
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
Oct 07, 2012 Mmars rated it liked it
Shelves: short-novellas
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,
Mandy Jo
Sep 13, 2011 Mandy Jo rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2013 Di rated it really liked it
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
Sep 02, 2012 Marcia Forecki rated it it was amazing
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
Ben G
Jun 17, 2013 Ben G rated it really liked it
* 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
Apr 26, 2015 Lorna rated it really liked it
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.
Reading Turgenev is a simple, but deeply moving story about a profoundly lonely young wife of an older man with evil sisters. The town thinks she has lost her mind and she does do strange things, but is living one's life the way one wishes "crazy"?
Edward Richmond
Jul 20, 2015 Edward Richmond rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary-fiction
God, I hated this book. It bored me to tears. Or possibly the two novellas within were just that depressing. Your mileage may vary, but I found Trevor's stories almost unbearable.
Jan 14, 2015 Marisa rated it it was ok
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
Apr 12, 2014 Paul Long rated it really liked it
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.
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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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