“In the summer of 1914 Jean-Marc Montjean, a recent graduate from medical school, arrives in the Basque village of Salies in the French Pyrenees to assist the village physician. His first assignment is to treat the louche brother of a beautiful young woman called Katya Treville. As he comes to know his patient’s family, he begins to realise that they are haunted by an old, dark secret – but he can’t help falling deeply in love with Katya. Jean-Marc is repeatedly warned away from any attempt at romantic involvement by Katya’s family, but he is young, hopeful, in love, and certain that his feelings are reciprocated. When he learns that the Trevilles are planning to leave the village forever, he insists on a final meeting with Katya, one that transforms a heartrending love story into a shattering nightmare. The chilling denouement, reminiscent of Hitchcock at his best, will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned’
So. This is not a novel I would have purchased, so I’m eternally grateful to having rediscovered the joys of the local library.
To be honest, I first picked up The Summer of Katya because the author’s name caught my eye. I thought it was a new Armenian author I hadn’t yet come across…WRONNNG! Trevanian is actually the pen name of possibly one of the most diverse authors I’ve come across. His work spans many genres and themes. So much so that as each book was released from the early 70’s to 2005, fans became more & more convinced that it was a network of authors behind the works. Or Robert Ludlum, to which Trevanian responded ‘I don’t even know who he is. I read Proust, but not much else written in the 20th century.’ Love the ‘tude!
The year is 1914, between what the author calls ‘the age of grace and the era of efficiency’. Our narrator, Jean-Marc is a fresh, young graduate who comes to work with the village physician in a sleepy French country town. A chance meeting with an enigmatic young lady, Katya and her family sets off a series of events that weave and turn, crescendoing in a Hitchcock style ending. The novel starts off as a romance, with the young Jean-Marc becoming quickly enthralled with Katya, introduces some mystery and ends on a horrifying note.
I don’t want to give much more away…but I will say that it’s a fast, excellent read. It’s so refreshing to find an author who can tell a story in a mere 200-ish pages. Each sentence in the book has been carefully thought out and delivered. Nothing is there that doesn’t need to be. The melody and pace kept me enthralled – I could hardly put it down, and finished it in 2 sittings. The eloquence and wit behind the words actually made me re-read whole paragraphs – there was a real poetry to it. Here’s some of my fave passages;
“Ah yes, write. For at that time in my life I felt capable of everything. Having attempted nothing, I had no sense of my limitations; having dared nothing, I knew no boundaries to my courage. During the years of fatigue and dulling rote in medical school, I had daydreamed of a future confected of two careers: that of the brilliant and caring doctor and that of the inspired and inspiring poet. And why not? I was an avid and sensitive reader, and I made the common error of assuming that being a responsive reader indicated latent talent as a writer, as though being a gourmand was but a short step from being a chef.”
“It was, of course, the accuracy of his evaluation that irritated me. We all desire to be understood, but no one enjoys being obvious. I am afraid my annoyance was not well concealed, for he smiled in a way that told me he took pleasure in baiting me.”
“I realize that your intentions are of the best. You lack the imagination required to be genuinely evil.”
“Confession is good for the spirit, Montjean. It empties the soul, making space for more sin’
“I see” I forced a watery smile “You don’t mind if I take tomorrow off and spend it with the Trevilles, do you?”
“My dear boy,” Doctor Gros said, his voice trembling with sincerity as he patted me on the shoulder, “my dear boy. I want you always to view yourself as uniquely dispensable”
The writing was actually almost disconcerting. I was so caught up in the prose, that I often had to re-read, just to confirm that those beautiful sentences could come together to paint such a ghastly picture.
As an aside, I also really liked reading about Basque culture , which I previously didn’t know much about (thanks Wikipedia!)
I will definitely be heading back to the library to try and pick up some more from this author. The end of this novel included 30 or so pages from the author’s very last book ‘The Crazyladies of Pearl Street’ and couldn’t believe I was reading the same author. The pace, language and atmosphere was completely different (many call it autobiographical), but I was hooked all over again, and was actually pretty sad when it came to an end!