Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 272 pages; 2014.
As you may have noticed, I’ve been reading a lot of William Trevor’s novels lately — and here’s another one.
First published in 1966, The Love Department was his third novel. Like his two earlier novels — The Old Boys and The Boarding House — it is set in suburban London (Wimbledon, to be precise), has a rather cutting comic element running throughout and stars a cast of suitably eccentric characters, including:
- Septimus Tuam, a good-looking, seductive man, who charms married women and then runs off with their money;
- Edward Blakeston-Smith, a 20-something chap desperate to make something of himself, who is hired (in a round-about way) to locate Septimus and stop him in his tracks; and
- Lady Dolores, a ferociously over-the-top agony aunt in charge of the “Love Department” at a national publication, who hires Edward to find Septimus in order to stop more lovelorn women falling under his spell.
The narrative, which moves along at a cracking pace, charts Edward’s often farcical attempts to find his quarry. A nervous, anxious type, he’d much prefer to sit in the office and answer letters from readers, but Lady Dolores refuses to let him pen a word: she wants him out on the street doing old-fashioned detective work to track down the scheming Lothario breaking hearts and ripping off women in the suburbs.
It’s told in a dry, detached manner that only makes the humour — and the dialogue — more pronounced.
The Love Department is essentially a farce filled with uproariously funny moments — there’s one scene involving a pet monkey running amok at a dinner party that had me in stitches — but this is a William Trevor novel, so it’s tempered by pathos and there’s a rich vein of social commentary lying just beneath the surface, too, which examines loneliness, heartache and melancholia. It’s a very fine — and darkly comic — read, one that has proved to be my favourite of his first three novels.