View Full Version : William Trevor

2nd Jan 2008, 2:37

Willa Cather once wrote, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” It could also be added, “or as if they'd never met William Trevor.” The dozen short stories in Trevor’s 1996 collection, After Rain, sparkle with freshness and economy that belie the turmoil and tragedies his characters create and endure. His sentences are direct, unladen with stretchy adjectives or any hint of tricksiness. For a greedy short story reader such as myself, the people and their slices of life met in After Rain hit the spot most squarely and with ineffable believability.

Trevor’s use of the unswerving word brings descriptive power with refreshing readability. And nestled within those brief but astute descriptions are a variety of characters meeting up with subtle truths. Each story crafts a moment of epiphany, lightly and often surprisingly arrived at, when protagonists either stumble upon a truth or have it imparted to them gracefully. In the title story, Harriet, who’s described as…

Wearing a blue dress unadorned except for the shiny blue buckle of its belt, she has earrings that hardly show and a necklace of opaque white beads that isn’t valuable. Angular and thin, her dark hair cut short, her long face strikingly like the sharply chiselled faces of Modigliani, a month ago she passed out of her twenties.

visits an Italian church on a holiday and receives knowledge of a truth while studying a painting.

The Annunciation in the church of Santa Fabiola is by an unknown artist, perhaps of the school of Filippo Lippi, no one is certain. The angel kneels, grey wings protruding, his lily half hidden by a pillar. The floor is marble, white and green and ochre. The Virgin looks alarmed, right hand arresting her visitor’s advance. Beyond - background to the encounter - there are gracious arches, a balustrade and then the sky and hills. There is a soundlessness about the picture, the silence of a mystery: no words are spoken in this captured moment, what’s said between the two has been said already.

My favorite amongst the offerings is Lost Ground, a thirty page story that outwardly deals with the Irish conflict between Catholic and Protestant believers, while delivering a shattering horror story of a boy who is misunderstood by himself and his family, allowing full expression of sectarian hatred to blossom within a seemingly bucolic household. This one story delivers such nuance and complexity, couched in everyday language, that comparisons to Chekhov are inescapable.

I picked up the lovely UK edition of After Rain from a book bartering store over a year ago, having seen Trevor mentioned here with praise. His oeuvre is exciting, containing Booker nominees, Whitbread winners, and respect from all corners. It’s exciting to stumble upon the truth of a wonderful “new” writer and to give him a thread for further discovery. For those who appreciate and savor short stories, Trevor is not to be missed.

John Self
2nd Jan 2008, 9:06
I've read a couple of his novels - the Booker-shortlisted novella Reading Turgenev, and the often-praised Felicia's Journey (the Whitbread winner?). I can't remember much of the first, and really didn't much like the latter, mainly because it contained a lot of cringe-making attempts by a man then in his seventies to portray pop culture (I seem to remember Madonna and Michael Jackson featuring). That was probably unfair (though I also disliked the predictability of the storyline), and I did return to him when his recent novel The Story of Lucy Gault was shortlisted for the Booker. However I couldn't get through it, and pretty much drew a line under him at that point.

I haven't read many of his stories though. I do have two collections, Ireland and Outside Ireland, which I've resisted handing over to the charity shop in regular clearouts over the years. Only now do I realise that this was a foreshadowing of knowledge that Beth's praise in early 2008 would make me want to revisit them! Certainly those quotes you give are impressive.

2nd Jan 2008, 15:51
Don't throw them away yet, JS! I think the novel(la?) I want to find next is My House in Umbria. I'm as fascinated by Trevor now as with Brian Moore. I found the stories extremely readable but inventive and surprising. He writes with such a light touch. There's nothing predictable about any of these stories and that was very exciting.

John Self
2nd Jan 2008, 15:57
My House in Umbria was the companion piece to Reading Turgenev, published in the UK in one volume under the umbrella title Two Lives. This must be the only time half a book has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

2nd Jan 2008, 16:46
I think that William Trevor is a phenomenal short story writer. I haven't read any of his novels but his stories are excellent. I have a copy of The Collected Stories which is a massive door-stop of a thing with over 1200 pages. It's an omnibus edition of a number of his short story collections. It doesn't include 'After Rain', alas, but is a great introduction to Trevor's oeuvre.

2nd Jan 2008, 17:07
Welcome to Palimpsest, Adr.! That Collected Stories is tempting, but I'm wondering if it would be less daunting to purchase the collections separately. And maybe gather some lovely covers along the way? ;-)

2nd Jan 2008, 17:24
The Collected Stories collects the stories from:

The Day We Got Drunk on Cake and Other Stories (1967),
The Ballroom of Romance and Other Stories (1972),
Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories (1975),
Lovers of Their Time and Other Stories (1978),
Beyond the Pale and Other Stories (1981),
The News From Ireland and Other Stories (1986),
Family Sins and Other Stories (1990)

All in all, it has 87 stories and weighs slightly less than a bag of wet cement. It is, however, vastly more entertaining than a bag of wet cement. It's a great collection to start with and an ideal way to excercise your upper arm muscles.

4th Sep 2010, 17:48
William Trevor was for many years a writer of whom I had heard a great deal but not read a word. Every time he was shortlisted for a prize or mentioned in glowing terms by a punter in one of the many bookshops I have worked in over the years I would pick up whatever was being discussed and think - yes, next book.

But that was all. I never seemed to go any further for some reason. (Part of the cause may have been that I don't read many short stories, or rather I do but almost always wish that I hadn't bothered. By their nature I find short stories unsatisfactory and well, too short...Of course any such blanket statement comes with plenty of exceptions - Raymond Carver I love for the way his stories chime with my ideas of lowlife America, the words to go with a version of the states I have invented through listening to too much Sonic Youth garage rock/hardcore etc. Lovecraft - just great fun. Chekhov - life in a nutshell.) But when I don't rush to read an author there is usually a reason. I just finished Felicia's Journey and now I KNOW there was/is a reason for not liking William Trevor.

My journey through Felicia's Journey took far too long for such a short novel. I should have finished it in a couple of days if not a few solid hours of reading. But it took three weeks to complete.

I can see how Trevor could be good at short stories. He seems to want to write in sketches, to catch character with a few key observations. Mr Hilditch has small hands. Small Hands! Mr Hilditch likes his food. Mr Hilditch likes Little Chef and Welcome Break on the motorway. I couldn't give a muck. To me Mr Hilditch was never at all human, unreal in the extreme. You couldn't have invented a more wooden, not to mention stereotypical, normal but evil dude. I mean it just had to be about his mother didn't it? And Felicia herself. Are we meant to feel sympathy for her? Impossible to feel anything for another character who seemed to have been glued together from bits of cliche. Unbearable. I can't imagine how bad the film is! Apart from anything else Felicia's life on the streets seemed way too pleasant. There are so many people giving out free food, giving her clothes, offering free dental treatment etc. and though Felicia hears screaming in a squat she stays in it turns out to be a Spanish tenant who lives below the squat irritated beyond sanity by the noise. Life on the street for a young girl is a lot worse. She would have been savaged. The end of the novel seems to suggest she is having quite a nice time really as a down and out.

"She isn't hungry. It will be a few hours before she begins to feel hungry and then there'll be the throwaway stuff in the bins."

If you look carefuly Felicia you will find my copy of Felicia's Journey there. I will be trusting my instincts on the next few books...

5th Sep 2010, 22:28
If you look carefuly Felicia you will find my copy of Felicia's Journey there.

:lol: Will think twice before retrieving this from any yard or rummage sales. Your remark about short stories prompts me to think of my experience as exactly reversed. I used to find them immensely satisfying. Each year I'd buy or receive the little paperbacks of Best American Short Stories for that year. But as the years have grown, so have my inclinations for more novelistic fiction. Maybe that's why I haven't purchased more Trevor short stories but rather Fools of Fortune and the novellas contained in Two Lives: Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria. Still, a few weeks ago I toted some books to a relative and removed After Rain from the bag as I just couldn't part with it.

7th Sep 2010, 19:51
Had a few regrets about my caustic reaction to Trev...glad to see folk are allowed to have differing opinions on here!


8th Sep 2010, 13:28
Oh there are some famously differing opinions 'round here, Derek. Peek into the Wuthering Hts thoughts sometime. I'd been here only a few days when I blasted Süskind's Perfume. It's all in good fun...

This reignites my interest in William Trevor. Have you thought about trying Love and Summer? Seems to have a finer rep than Felicia.

11th Nov 2010, 16:39
I read William Trevor: The Collected Stories many moons ago and must confess that I really enjoyed it.

ono no komachi
11th Nov 2010, 17:13
I really like the short stories too, Suzie; but I was a wee bit disappointed with The Story of Lucy Gault. It seemed to be trying to achieve a kind of ethereal quality, with the result that I thought it had less impact in its novel's length than some of short stories managed in mere pages. It's the only full-length Trevor that I've read.

12th Nov 2010, 0:10
...Have you thought about trying Love and Summer? Seems to have a finer rep than Felicia.
I have a high appreciation of Love and Summer, the only William Trevor I book I have read so far. It was so simply portrayed, yet had an excellent and unexpected twist.

I have since purchased a lovely hardback edition of The Story of Lucy Gault, which I look forward to reading.

20th May 2011, 1:54
I read somewhere this quip: 'It's a good thing Trevor is already Trevor, or he wouldn't get an editor to answer an email.' Knowing nothing of William Trevor to this point, I naturally I had to find out why.

I have just begun reading William Trevor's After Rain, a book of short stories from 1996 (I scored a first edition in mint condition for $6USD), and I am loving the stories, their forms and plots and especially his presentation of character, but the language, well, not so much. Do the editors have a point? Is the quip more than a matter of fashion? Most everything a writer can, and should, do is done and done well, but I am still a bit disappointed? Sounds slightly spoiled when I put it that way, no?

It makes me wonder--very specifically and critically--just what it is I am looking for when I approach an author who is new to me. I went to the Oxford book of shorts, selected and edited by Byatt in 1998, to see where he stood with the times. Imagine, a writer almost universally acclaimed as the master of the short story is not represented there! This makes me think that I am not alone when it comes to approaching writers with an agenda--or just a jaundiced eye.

I'm resolved to do a few things: 1) read all of After Rain with an eye to my own limitations as a reader, 2) read Death in Summer, his novel from 1998, to be more generally familiar with him as an author, and the 3) read a bunch of the Byatt selections from the Oxford book, focusing on the moderns. Perhaps some comparison can lead to insight about what can make a writer well respected, but still unpopular. (In this regard, I'm thinking also of comparing it to Ishiguro"s Nocturnes, another 1998 book of shorts, some of which I have already read and enjoyed, but, frankly, this may be making the project a career. We'll see!)

My gut tells me Trevor is both a man of his times and a victim of his times. I hope to be more whole-heartedly on his side before this is over! (Arghh! This could require some reception history research as well.)