William Trevor

"A Bit on the Side"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage AUG 26, 2006)

They did not go in for telling one another the story of their lives. Their conversation was not like that, yet almost without their knowing it their lives were there, in a room made different by their friendship. They did not touch upon emotions, not touch upon regret or anything that might have been.

The short story collection, A Bit on the Side from William Trevor contains twelve short stories. The stories cover a range of themes that focus on relationships and include aspects of loss, grief, and disappointing love affairs. In “Sitting with the Dead” two middle-aged women—the Geraghtys—arrive at the home of a recently deceased man. His widow Emily is waiting for the undertaker to arrive. After twenty-three years of marriage, Emily states, “there is no grief in this house.” She was married for her money and the house she owned, and her feckless husband ran the property into the ground in order to support his dreams of possessing a champion racehorse. The Geraghtys absorb all of Emily’s previously unexpressed thoughts, and their laconic, sympathetic style enables Emily to unburden herself to these two neutral, non-judgmental strangers. Emily is finally able to tell someone “I was a fool and you pay for foolishness. I was greedy for what marriage might be, and you pay for greed.” Emily is a little puzzled by the Geraghtys—after all, she’s heard that they sit with the dying, so in her mind, they’ve “had a wasted journey.” However, as the Geraghtys later to reveal to one another—their gentle duty has been achieved.

In “Justina’s Priest,” Father Clohessy regrets the community’s loss of faith in modern times, and worries about the fate of a young girl named Justina. She still attends church regularly, delivering her confession on cue, and the girl’s confessions trouble the priest—for while they’re perfectly structured, Justina is “sinless.” She’s devoted to the church, continually cleaning it, but she’s also has the mental capacity of a five-old. While Justina’s faith is simple, childlike and unchallenged, other people around Justina do not have such an easy time with life. She lives with her older, married sister Maeve, her husband and his father. When Justina begins receiving letters from a girl she used to know who is now a prostitute, the people in Justina’s life all have different reactions to this. Father Clohessy, a man who struggles with feelings of uselessness, and doesn’t know what to preach about any more, acknowledges the complications and disappointments of human nature while trying to ensure that Justina remains protected.

In “Evening Out,” two middle-aged people, Jeffrey and Evie, arrange to meet on a blind date through a dating service. Used to disappointment, they each have their own agenda, and the evening is composed of a series of false pretences, deceptions, and superficial social niceties. Evie remembers a number of similar evenings and a procession of men whose “smiles hide a multitude of sins.” When the evening’s plan goes a little off course, both Jeffrey and Evie find that they can engage one another honestly—at least for a few hours.

In “Big Bucks,” Fina and her fiancé John Michael long to go to America. They are both encouraged in their dreams of a new life in America by an indigent pub crawler who swears that “Big Bucks” await the couple if they can only launch themselves. When John Michael finally leaves, Fina waits for him to return, and they plan their marriage. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as they imagined. John Michael is in essence an illegal immigrant, so he works whatever jobs he can, moving from place to place, and often unable to contact Fina for long periods of time. Just how this alters their love is the substance of this tale.

While the stories are not so dark as many of Trevor’s wonderful novels (Felicia’s Journey, for example) they tend to explore the quirky, unfathomable side of human relationships. Trevor fans will be pleased with the collection, and although these short stories do not reflect his best work, nonetheless, this is a good solid collection.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews
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"The Story of Lucy Gault"

(Reviewed by Wenkai Tay AUG 30, 2003)

The Story of Lucy Gault reads like a 228-page understatement, with author William Trevor speaking volumes through space and silence.

Ireland, with its fragile beauty, forms the backdrop for Trevor's latest offering. Antagonism against the rich landowners is rife, and Captain Everett Gault is beginning to feel the pressure to leave his family home of Lahardane. A group of young thugs try to set fire to his home. When Captain Gault shoots at the them in an attempt to scare them away, his single bullet, however, grazes one of them, causing him to worry about the possible retaliation.

Consequently, Captain Gault and his wife Heloise make the difficult decision to move out of their family home. But his nine-year-old daughter Lucy is very reluctant to leave the seaside scenery she has grown so familiar with.

Young Lucy takes pleasure in the little things along the seaside around Lahardane. "In the field above the cliffs she heard the chiming of the Angelus bell in Kilauran. Sometimes you heard it, sometimes you didn't. The sound still carried to her while she was pulling off her clothes on the strand. It was lost when she ran into the sea and waded out. This was always the best part - walking slowly through the waves, the coldness rising, invigorating on her skin, the pull of the undertow at her feet. She spread out her arms to swim beyond her depth, then floated with the tide." Through
Lucy's eyes, we can see Trevor's love for Ireland.

To protest her parents' decision, Lucy decides to run away from home. On discovering Lucy's sudden disappearance, her anxious parents attempt to look for her, afraid that something terrible has befallen their daughter. Unable to find her, they soon become convinced that they have lost Lucy forever. Grief-stricken and anxious to forget the past, the Gaults leave Ireland to start life afresh abroad. When Lucy finally reappears, it is too late; her
parents have left Lahardane for good.

Lucy grows up, tormented by her parents' absence. Even when she finds true love, she feels that until she is forgiven for her mistake, she is undeserving of love, and so rejects it. She remains in Lahardane, hoping for reconciliation, able only to wonder about what could have been.

The book moves forward, not by what is said, but what is deliberately left unsaid. The characters make choices to leave or not to leave someone, something or someplace, and spend the rest of their days living with the consequences of their choices. The echoing emptiness, the yawning distances between characters that they themselves choose to keep, all contribute to the haunting psychological effect the book has on the reader.

The Story of Lucy Gault was shortlisted for the 2002 Booker Prize. But unlike the other novels in the shortlist, notably the delightfully whimsical winner Life of Pi, Trevor's novel is more old-fashioned and less plot-driven. Trevor uses a tone of voice that is controlled and restrained, producing a subtle, muted effect on the close reader.

William Trevor, a seasoned short story writer, fashions the novel as a series of brief vignettes that are episodic in nature. That is why in spite of the achingly slow pace of narration, the reader feels the relentless passing of time. One senses the effects of time and circumstances, both of which the characters in the novel are unable to control.

A poignant tragedy of guilt and forgiveness, Lucy Gault's story is a strangely satisfying one. The book leaves a persistent after-image in the reader's mind, one that lingers long after the last page.

  • Amazon readers rating: from74 reviews

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About the Author:

William TrevorWilliam Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland in 1928. His father was a banker, which required him to move from town to town, thus Trevor attended 13 different schools. He graduated with a degree in History from Trinity College in 1950. He worked as a sculptor and briefly supported himself by teaching. He exhibited his sculptor in Dublin and England and did well as an artist.

In 1954 in married his college sweetheart, Jane Ryan and moved to England. While Jane taught, Trevor wrote his first novel, which received hardly in critical attention from the press. He abandoned sculpting and moved to London in 1960 to work as a copywriter in a London advertising agency. At the point that he was about to fired, he quit and started writing short stories, which led to his second novel. The Old Boys won the Hawthornden Prize in 1964 and since 1965, Trevor has been a full time writer. He has received numerous awards for his prolific output consisting of novels, short stories, stage plays, radio and television plays. Although a prize-winning novelist, Trevor describes himself as "a short story writer who likes writing novels."

The Hill Bachelors (2000), Trevor's most recent short story collection, received the 2001 Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for fiction. The Story of Lucy Gault was shortlisted for the 2002 Booker Prize. His short novel, My House in Umbria was recently made into an HBO movie. Trevor is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and resides in Devon, England, with his wife, Jane Ryan Cox.

(From the BBC Profiles on author William Trevor)

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