34 thoughts on “Collected Stories – William Trevor


    “Why did you say cow-parsley?”

    From ‘releasing a lease’ to an oblique twist at the end about a pink cheque for five pounds, this is possibly the greatest short story I have ever read. No exaggeration. Between Mrs da Tanka and Mr Mileson encountering each other, both cluttered with the baggage of their respective backstories, neither satisfied by their night together. Or am I attempting to clarify an issue that should stay clouded?


    A sadly poignant story – sadly humorous, too, in a strange way – of a man now going to seed after ‘murdering’ his marriage to Elizabeth by having an affair with Diana whom he met on a train. Diana has now left him. He now lives from Sunday to Sunday, on which day he has access to his two young daughters and tries to find things for them to do in London, but they end up watching The Golden Shot and Songs of Praise on his TV, as he gradually gets drunk. Meanwhile Elizabeth, with whom he shares a birthday date, has a new man, but he still hopes that good sense will prevail by renewing their marriage… a Gimlet in his eye? Beautifully done, with nice touches of the daughters’ conversations. Somehow uplifting by being an adept story to cherish simply for what it is with old day Sundays evoked, but, overall, real sad.


    “The past was his hunting ground; from it came his pleasure and a good deal of everything else. Yet he was not proof against the moment he lived in.”

    I, too, once bored people with astrology, but never as a conversational befriending device, like 78 year old General Suffolk. I, too, feel guilty, when going to the cinema in the afternoon, but that is unlike General Suffolk. This is of its time. Women with cigarettes hung autonomously from their mouths. The General on the search for a woman on his day out, but ironically leaving a woman back in his own place doing for him, as they used to say. A hilarious but poignant portrait of this man, getting drunker and drunker. Men got drunk more easily then. See previous story. By the way, I loved the item of backstory, though, about the duel in the General’s younger days. And the blade – or a similar one – that he drew blood with, hung on someone else’s wall today.


    “; and then she thought it was decidedly odd, a detective going on about his past to an elderly woman on the terrace of an hotel.”

    Two friends, retired woman teachers, on holiday on continent, sitting side by side in deckchairs. When one is gone temporarily, the private detective on surveillance sits in the other deckchair, and says he wants casual conversation so as to appear casual… makes her squiffy with drinks he buys … but his memories of childhood, nostalgic and tragic, were they made up or real? And when the other woman returns, who made up or concocted whom, and who would gossip later about it all – or not, as the case may be? Details here of colours, things, memories, drinks, plants, and much more, seem to be off some wall of literature that I remember as a child would later preoccupy me as an old man, whether either blocking my view or entrancing me remained to be seen, as it is now seen, but I am still unsure.


    “‘I am the nigger in the woodpile,’ said a Mrs Galbally,…”

    A VERY strange story, an arch-absurdism, of a Louis XVI console table sale and its negotiations between various parties and their motives as imagined by a Jewish furniture dealer, involving a ‘love nest’ and taking off one’s clothes prior to a ‘slick kiss.’ Obviously code for something far more important than itself. History was changed each time this work got a new reader to read it.

    “I am a Jewish dealer, madam. I have a Jewish nose; I am not handsome; I cannot smile.”

    [I would guess this was published in the 1960s.]


    If one has asthma as a schoolboy, one should not smoke surreptitiously in the lavatories, I would say. He did have “the presence of worms in his body”, though, I note. An insidious story of boy’s telling stories to each other at night, one about the supposed ‘murder’ of his mother by his father so that he, his father, could marry his mother’s sister. A triangulation of boys leading to a set of accretive circumstances, the telling of stories about each other to the headmaster and another teacher called Pinshow. It all sort of coagulated in my mind like illicitly toasted toast with adulterated raspberry jam. Which of the dual relationships of the triangulation was the most illicit? None, probably. Like all human life, much hangs on chance or mistake or mischief or wild imagination.
    Better than burnt toast, Cakes and Ale are just a happy rare break from the rest of that insidious miasma of our lives from schooldays onward, I guess.
    This thus titled work by W. Somerset Maugham was mentioned in another William Trevor schoolboy school story (‘Traditions’) that I read and reviewed yesterday: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/01/13/later-stories-by-william-trevor/#comment-18033
    And I happen to be concurrently reviewing the Selected Stories of W. Somerset Maugham here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/01/18/short-stories-somerset-maugham/


    “She remembered Mrs Neck saying: ‘I’d sooner a smear of Stork that what they’re turning out today,’…”

    With the accretive tipsy squiffiness of General Suffolk earlier, this relates to a posh top flat wherein Mr and Mrs Runca are due to have flowers et al photographed for a fashionable magazine, a flat in an apartment block, and telling, too, of the block’s curmudgeonly, untrustworthy caretaker, a spinster lady with a dog who lives in a lower fiat, the Runcas’ Italian maid, and an almost slapstick accumulation of mishaps and near-catastrophes, mishaps due to drinking — and a prophecy, here back in the sixties, of an equally accretive sort of Trumpish ‘fake news’ syndrome that many believe to be true….
    I truly sympathised with the spinster and her dog’s victimisation in these circumstances, and her own slightly squiffy failure to make herself understood amid a mountain of mistruths told ABOUT her or even concocted naïvely, for all the best reasons, BY her.


    “The best things are complex and mysterious. And must remain so.”

    I take that on board, when telling you that this is probably one of the most sinister stories I have ever read. Telling of a period when telephone numbers were commutable but not telephones themselves. And babysitters did not become those for whom they sat. And a job in secrecy was something to be boasted about. And a man catching a woman in marriage upon the brink of becoming a nun, also boastable. You will not forget this story of Miss Efoss babysitting for Mr and Mrs Dutt.
    Worthy of Aickman.


    Ex RAF man JPP teaches ladies to drive, telling them about mirror signal manoeuvre, stream-of-traffics’ rights of way, while fancying the breasts of a typist back in the office, while bearing overweight breasts himself! Depression leads to misstreaming… even death being better than commission-selling goods to pregnant ladies?!


    This is a classic of coercion, suspicion, uncertain characters, frailty of purpose and easy partying…
    Seriously great. How is it I have not read it before?
    It out-Pinters Pinter. Who came first, Trevor or Pinter?


    “…until they arrived at the horror, until the horror was complete.”

    Miss Smith was a teacher and she despised little James, made him feel small or less than he was. She left teaching and had a baby of her own. Her husband despaired at her seemingly unforced mistakes in the care of child-rearing. One incident was with gas.
    But who gaslit HER?
    A remarkable creepy story that should be published in books that are made for those who enjoy creepy stories.


    “The storm had brought the apples down.”

    How has this classic horror story not become the classic it should be? A blend of Elizabeth Bowen’s The Apple Tree with Robert Aickman’s The Hospice, yet essentially what is now fast-becoming for me William Trevor’s dark and puckish genius. Involving a confidence tricking couple and a fast-becoming senile one. And an idle blood moon above the orchard.

    “Lady Marston laughed quite gaily, ‘Few things have meaning, Cronin. It is rather much to expect a meaning for everything.’”


    “He crushed her mother because he’d been crushed himself.”

    That was 13 year old Eleanor’s father, once wrestler, celebrity-knowing boaster, making wrestling noises when being ‘obliged’ by – or ‘obliging’ – her mother. A strikingly shocking story of schoolchildren’s chat about sex, and actual sex, with each other in working class sixties, while the French teacher, with stray hair on her chin and upper lip, kept clean and solitary in Esher… with most parents AT it, too.
    I know whom I envy most.
    This is a remarkable story where an era of time in a sixties English city is exposed as it has never been exposed before. Pity nobody ever reads this today. “‘Sall right…”


    “Death has danced through Dunfarnham Avenue and I have seen it, a man without socks or shirt, a man who shall fry in the deep fat of hell.”

    The fat of carved ham, the fat of a chop that a blown fuse had stopped frying, this is another one of those William Trevor stories that gently takes you by the scruff of the neck and strangles you. A man and his sister in the same house where they have lived all their lives, she taller, in black, he “a shrimpish creature, fond of the corners of rooms”. She entices him to visit others in Dunfarnham Avenue; today it is an 82 year old woman to whom he has not spoken but watches as she feeds the birds. There is something so utterly sinister and demented in this story, And I might tell you all about it, rather than skirting around it, but really “I am too old, you see, to take on new subjects.”


    “When he went to the trouble of inventing stomach trouble, you’d think she’d take the trouble to remember it.”

    A sad tale of simple pleasures, well, at least Mavie is simple, and he conniving, and married with kids, in his fifties, buys a huge bottle of rosé for 14/7d. She, Mavie, in her late twenties, thinks she loves him, cooks him mackerel on this their 47th Saturday-window of sexual opportunity. So many seedy touches in this story. She imagines and dreads imagining him at home with his wife. And when he’s finished with Mavie he does not go straight home but watches a Movie in a cinema.

    “It’s just that I don’t wish to soil the hour.”


    “Bits of conversations float to the surface without much of a continuing pattern and without any significance that I can see. I suppose we were a happy family:”

    A touching story of dementia that comes to his wife, or does it? I somehow sense that a Mr Higgs who rung her regularly about things about her past that any stranger like him could not know was more a retrocausal particle of time like Higgs boson. Yet that would take this 1962 story itself out of time? Or was Higgs just another Mambi? And you will not understand that question until it spoils this story for you when you read it. Just as Mr Higgs spoilt the life of this happy family, the mother and a father and three children, who went to suburban woods in a car that not all families would have had in 1962, I guess. Or perhaps it was someone else ringing up, a spam call from the future, someone like me who had, by now, read this story and already knew It secrets?


    “‘Do you know those people I was talking to?’ she said to her partner, but with a portion of her hair still in his mouth he made no effort at reply.”

    ….her dancing partner that is, as Jerome K Jerome might also know. This is a party to which she has been invited and expected to meet her husband there, but, as a childless wife, she becomes convinced that he is so late because he is with his Mark-2 Wife. He is certainly IN it, I guess. Meanwhile, it is an astonishing Pinteresque portrait of paranoia that increasingly seems to be role-played by all the characters involved, almost with a tinge of Rosemary’s Baby — including the woman’s shrink Abbatt at the other end of a telephone. Alternatively, it is a mere social comedy of marital mœurs. I often get the wrong end of the stick!
    Whatever the case, it is a pure gem of a story, if one with impure motives.


    “Quigley was lucky being how he was.”

    So is JJD being how he was, too, when in his sagging bed, at the end of the day, dreaming. And we learn of JJD (today his 15th birthday). And Q who was the simple-minded dwarf that JJD has always hung out with. Who is advising what to whom, though, as JJD is delayed and delayed on his Ulysses day (similar to the General’s Day above) on an errand to get his mother rashers of bacon from the pub, when his lessons then begin (JJD being fatherless) with his first bottle of stout, hearing from Mr Lynch in the pub about his wartime experiences related to Piccadilly Circus tarts, JJD then, in his mind, reliving dreams of local women in the area tempting him with divesting flirtations (wishful, real or dreamt), urges he wanted to assuage for them if his body was not so God-given as the church educators had decided it was. Q could do this without even a shrug. But was Lynch of the wartime tarts story after him, too, in a lateral way? Is Q after JJD’s body too? And what about the church educators themselves? But that would be a sacrilegious reading on my part of this story, my dreaming beyond the ability to touch it or delve into its secrets. His mother with the fountain pen gift for his birthday, and he writes down with new ink that ‘he is hot, and perhaps he should divest’? Or did I imagine that, too? Another genuine masterpiece, though. Yet another Trevor trove. With a refrain of rashers, and incantations of infatuation as a boy becomes a man – in his sagging bed. At the end of the salacious day.


    “She closed her eyes and felt herself moving upwards, floating in the room, with a kaleidoscope in each eyelid.”

    I don’t know when this story was first published, but I am sure it could not be published today. A very disturbing appropriation of a woman by a co-working office boss, taken back to his flat upon the duty of sorting out some further work after hours. Both eventually drugged, we have a mix of a bad trip and the man’s prior incest with his mother.
    On the other hand this is a very well written horror story, so well written it becomes a necessary blocking or airbrushing of itself. Hence, it is now as if it never existed at all. Tucked away between two stories that somehow hide it. Only Kinkies can now possibly read it into a state of words, I guess or almost believe.

  20. Pingback: For the Mad and the Made | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS — A golden sphere in fey balance between clarity and confusion


    “I still couldn’t understand why the series of events was taking place. I tried to connect one occurrence with another, but I failed.”

    …as I do or don’t in this moving, poignant work, this slice of a boy youth’s life, now an uncle, his sister married elsewhere when announcing a baby by letter, this boy youth seeing his butcher Dad kiss the Bridget maid at the bottom of the stairs, earlier this boy youth being florined by his Dad’s assistant, an assistant but a better butcher, a better would-be husband for his mother, a better Dad for the boy youth, better at neatly, economically cutting meat rather than stumping off his fingers like his ‘swaying’ Dad often had done in the past, the boy youth not wishing to butcher red meat for the whole of his future life, Almost force fed, as he is as today’s boy youth, with fatty bacon and sausages every morning.
    The assistant was the unmarrying sort, according to his Dad, and is that why this assistant once perhaps innocently kissed the boy youth good night, but not in the same way as the boy youth’s own Dad had clumsily kissed Bridget? Something surely had to give, and someone had to leave.

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