I first came across William Trevor in the early nineties when my son came home from school with The Children of Dynmouth, his GCSE set text. I’ve been an ardent fan ever since, although I must admit that in one’s robust forties Trevor’s themes (sadness, loneliness, cruelty, the sheer arbitrariness of life’s awfulness) can be relished in a way that becomes increasingly difficult with age, as one’s skin thins and that arbitrariness begins to bite.
One does not read William Trevor to be cheered up. But one can definitely read him to be consoled: by the pin-point accuracy of the writing, by the absolute truth of his characters, by the universality of their predicaments, by the wisdom of his perceptions – in other words, by his humanity. Yes, he seems to be saying, appalling things happen, unfair, unjustified, inexplicable, random things you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy but there it is, we’re all in this together, that’s just the way it is. And somehow, the beauty of the writing can turn this message into something comforting. A warm hand has stretched out and taken yours.
William Trevor was an Irishman who spent his working life in England, first in London and then, after his novels brought success, in a quiet Devon village. But Ireland and its troubles remained a
favourite theme. The Story of Lucy Gault (2002) is set in an unspecified part of southern Ireland in a big house which has seen better days. It opens thus:
Captain Everard Gault wounded the boy in the right shoulder on the night of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one. Aiming above the trespassers’ heads in the darkness, he fired the single shot from an upstairs window and then watched the three figures scuttling off, the wounded one assisted by his companions.
While ‘scuttling’ – the only emotive word in these two calm, precise sentences – may render the trespassers undignified, it also suggests something more si
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