Later Stories by William Trevor

A Bit on the Side
After Rain
Cheating at Canasta
The Hill Bachelors

My other reviews of William Trevor:

My previous reviews of older or classic books:

When I read these books, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

28 thoughts on “Later Stories by William Trevor

    (from ‘Cheating at Canasta’)

    “…and he imagined he was in the car alone with her, that the man wasn’t there, that he hadn’t come to Ireland with her, that he didn’t exist.
    ‘Do you hear about St Teresa of Ávila? Do you hear about her in Ireland?’ Her lips opened and closed in the driving mirror, her teeth flashing, the tip of her tongue there for a moment.”

    A most moving story of 19 year old simple-minded Cahal who helps his Dad mend cars in the garage in Ireland, and there is a statue in a nearby village that was said to weep tears; he takes Spanish visitors (a man and that woman whose lips are in the driving mirror) to see that miracle legend that Cahal believes to be hokum, takes them in a tyre-leaky car for the money, and what happens? No retelling of the story here will express what happens because each time you read it something different will happen, like once he went back and picked something up and moved it and fulfilled a new destiny by the end. [As well as hankering for his own girl, Cahal also loved the singer called Madonna. And world football. There is a grey area between being simple-minded and deluded. The grey diminishing area between Cahal and the dressmaker?]

    (From ‘A Bit on the Side’)

    “‘We see a lot of widowing,’ Norah murmured.”

    Winnowing, too, I reckon, as in separating the living ghosts from the dead ones. Two women in oldish Ireland who take it upon themselves to ‘sit with the dead’ as their activity in life, arrive too late but sit with Emily instead who has watched her horse-bartering husband dying into his eventual death over the last few months, and the conversation gradually reveals her sad downtrodden marriage, a situation that the two sitters winnow on the way home in their car. Utterly poignant.

    (From The Hill Bachelors)

    “Lace Cap is the colour chosen. Sidney pours it into the roller dish and rolls it on to the ceiling, beginning at the centre, which a paint-shop man advised him once was the best way to go about it. The colour seems white but he knows it isn’t.”

    Vera 40 something; Sidney, once a stranger, now their odd job man, including doing broken bush-rose dismantlement, is 30 something; her father, like General Suffolk in another story, 78. There was a disabled sister, Mona. Once.
    Sidney gave Vera an alibi by saying he met her in the cinema at the time the intruder had entered the house…
    We work out how everything fits together without realising it is working US out. That is what fiction does. It is the reader that lands the fatal blow. And helps with whether tiling comes before painting in a bathroom. And whether Vera and Sidney will become an item when the father vanishes, too.

    “‘Out of control,’ Mr Schele comments, hearing that. ‘The whole globe out of control.’”

  4. The Piano Tuner’s Wives
    (From After Rain)

    “She had not attended the first wedding, although she had been invited. She’d kept herself occupied that day, whitewashing the chicken shed, but even so she’d wept.”

    The story of a blind piano-tuner who, when young, rejects one woman and marries another as his first wife, and then when the latter dies much later, he marries the first woman. Touching and poignant, when we learn what one could possibly extrapolate might have happened in such circumstances before reading this work did in fact happen. But nobody, I say, would have predicted the separate stories of colours and details each woman might have concocted for him when helping the logistics of his travelling to the pianos that needed tuning…
    Gave a new slant on story-making as well as on story-telling itself.

    “When the romance began with the man who had once rejected her, her brother and his wife considered she was making a mistake, but did not say so, only laughingly asked if she intended taking the chickens with her.”


    “She hadn’t known until Phair said, not long ago, that routine, for him, often felt like an antidote to dementia.”

    Strangely, I can link this with a much earlier story by Trevor – THE TABLE – that I read earlier today here, about a ‘love nest’ imagined as a whole projection of a scenario. In THE ROOM, the love nest is above a betting shop, and one projection of a woman’s casual affair in that nest imagines another projection, this time of a marriage, one involving a murder and the same woman acting an alibi.
    Imagining can work both ways for each projection, though.
    Nothing is Phair.


    “Adolescence was marked in them by jacket sleeves too short, unruly hair and coarsened voices, blemished skin beneath beginners’ stubble.”

    An atmospheric schoolboy story of yore. This boy had missed the coarsening prelude quoted above; and he was looked at with interest by the now middle-aged ‘dining-hall maid’ in this posh boys’ school. He looked at her, too, while suspecting her guilty of acts of wrong-doing over the years, including, today, the slaughter of various boys’ jackdaws, jackdaws as countenanced to be in a bespoke shed by the school handyman… and was it because she was let down by a previous boy at the school, or did she do it at all? Well, I somehow know for certain who killed the jackdaws, even if the story doesn’t tell us directly!


    “, a tarnished looking-glass huge above the white marble mantelpiece,”

    A gently gently of a Protestant rector in the emptying Ireland countryside noting the ‘confidence’ of the Catholic Mass when he attends the funeral service of his Catholic one-armed gardener to whom he had given a job for several years. The later visit by the priest to the rector in some beautiful seeming rapprochement is marked by the the rector turning a newspaper over so that the priest does not have to stare at its headline about some pedophile priest or other … only in the dark can you talk to each other clearly. Their own backstory in this small world linked in common by a car number, and the oblique mention of monks who would sail anywhere to set up a new commune in common? Oh, only obliquity, like darkness, can approach truth?

    ‘I remember you sitting on that wall.’
    ‘We used learn off the car numbers. Not that there were many, maybe two a day. ZB 726.’


    “It was over, all this was followed by; they would forget it; he’d drive to the Mortlake tip with the golf-bag, there’d be no television for thirty days, no sweets, cake or biscuits.”

    From concrete cement being put in Philip’s expensive golf-bag by his own two small sons, to “hole-in-corner”, we learn of the attrition and emotional entropy of Philip and Francesca, he a court judge, and Francesca his wife, and Francesca’s long-standing friend Margy, and Margy’s love affairs, one of which affairs she helps land on Francesca, as a sort of sororal gift to make up for Francesca’s marital entropy with Philip. The result, the follow up by this semi-colon; the very satisfyingly and believably and informatively complex reasons for the friendship breaking up and not the marriage breaking up. Stoical. As is the waitress in La Trota who had too many tables to handle. Or I might have got that last bit wrong! Must be my age. Anyway it was a court judge’s verdict, after all.

  9. Men of Ireland

    “Guiltless, he was guilty,…”
    Or whatever this story otherwise says about the travelling down-and-out called Prunty, and what it says about the priest whom Prunty seeks, back in his, Prunty’s, own Irish home town, after being in England. Off the boat he tries his chances with those he hitches with, does Prunty, to get a bit of cash, as if in dress rehearsal for the big heist, blackmailing or sexually impugning the priest for nothing but the thought that he, the priest, might have failed him, Prunty, failed Prunty when Prunty was an altar boy. Yet, we, the readers, if not the author, perhaps know better? Priest and Prunty. Only print can hide facts?


    “, he wondered if he had become prey to despair, the worst sin of all in the canon that was specially a priest’s.”

    Friend of Breda, who once wore a T-shirt with an ‘indecency’ on it, Justina, offered dinged tins of comestibles, is also the ‘backward’ sister, of Maeve, Maeve who is married into plumbing, and despairing her lot in life of looking after Justina. The socially inept priest, sad at the way modernity now ridicules priests, has something in common with Justina, including their togetherness in hearing her confession, and this makes me nod in thoughtfulness at the way he can bring a happiness in God to her, but can she do the same for him? Mr Gilfoyle, the plumber, and his mobile gallstone, notwithstanding.


    ‘Remember the day we saw the accident, the bus going too fast? Remember the first time in the Wild Park?’

    This is Wild Park, too, yet it’s all accepted, undercurrrented to a game of marbles, even an inexplicable rotting dog as part of the story and her father Dickie’s coat with a hole in it. But which is the story, which the truth, blending as they do? Bea is nine, pretty no doubt, and her mother Iris once appeared in Z Cars in the 1960s when she was a small girl, now getting back into the stage business on the back of Bea having the eponymous good news of winning an audition for an unspeaking part in a subtle innuendo of a TV play. Bea’s mother is estranged from Dickie but this ‘happy’ acting event may get them back together. Bea must make a success of this unspoken part when she wakes up in front of Mr Hance, played by whom? Or was he playing himself, if not with himself? This story of a story in a TV play, or vice versa, is subtle, insidious, self-seeking and makes me feel for Bea, as Mr Hance does, too, I think. Playing the part for real? Quietly wild, so you’d never know, what undercurrents run deep. Bea fails to tell anyone, not us, not even this story’s author! An unspeaking part, ironically, indeed.


    “: all they wore was old.”

    Just like Dirk Bogarde’s Servant film that I watched when it first came out in the cinema, this meticulous story has a stoical Pinteresqueness, with Eddie, 19, as unpolished messenger to the 60-something endemic couple, past Ruby, giving them a sickie message from their son excusing his non-attendance at their birthday treat for him, yes, that message being from their 30-something son Timothy who had inherited from a now dead older man to whom HE, Timothy, had been servant, with whatever innuendo you wish to make, but what valve did Eddie mend in the couple’s toilet, what ornament (intertwined Tench?) did he steal from them, after imbibing their gin!

    “Instant gave you cancer, Timothy maintained.”


    “He cheated at Canasta and she won.”

    A moving, densely observed story of a man whose wife Julia has dementia or senility and he still goes places, at her request, where she can’t now go, for her vicarious experiencing such places again. Like Harry’s Bar in Venice, where he overhears a married couple bickering, the wife very young and beautiful, and Julia’s own ‘spoken’ observations on the situation are spoken as factored into his thoughts — unless he cheats at doing that, too? To please her!? Canasta, Can Ask Her? Or not.

    “; and four years was a longer lapse of time than there ever was in the past.”


    “He gave a racing tip, Cassandra’s Friend at Newton Abbot, the first race.”

    An intriguing and thoughtful tale of naivety and grace, Liam Pat goes to London from his downbeat labouring job in Ireland, to a similar job found for him by those ‘kind’ Irishmen who had other ideas for him in IRA days when conductors collected fares on the top deck of buses. His courage to mourn the one he’d’ve otherwise become, had he been brave enough to do what he had been naively inculcated to do — or, then, I wondered if this was a parallel universe story after he couldn’t light a match for a girl on the bus…

    “, it could have been he had a dream of being on a bus, and he tried to remember waking up the next morning, but he couldn’t.”


    “He spoke of manhole covers and shadows thrown by television dishes, and rain on slated roofs.”

    A dating agency meeting of a man and woman in a theatre bar between the play starting and the interval rush. Guess why such a venue was chosen.
    The man a creative photographer of London – hence the reference to manhole covers and roofs – intent on a romance with a car-owning woman as that would be useful in transporting his photographic equipment around. But she’d just sold her car…
    Backstories and eventual last gasp extension of their meeting in restaurant, where she saw some people she knew across the room. Talk of his toothache and how the theatre bar loo had let him down for painkillers.
    A low key ignition to nothing as they left on separate trains. I felt I was there, too, witnessing, but not really noticing, like the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. I like taking photos, too.

    “You put it all together and it made a life; you lived in its aftermath, but that, too, was best kept back.”


    “Gerard wasn’t certain what a miscarriage was, and Rebecca, who had been uncertain also, explained that the baby came out too soon, a lot of mush apparently.”

    Gerard and Rebecca become tantamount to brother and sister as the father of one and the mother of the other marry. When alone the two children rôle-play the behaviour of their previous respective pairs of parents in adultery and dirty weekends in hotels. Your mind may boggle, and indeed the staged behaviour of repeated dialogue and situations between them is complicated by various Venn diagrams of naively and/ or precociously extrapolated relationships … and you become ultimately sad. This is what fiction is all about, the slanted projection of truths by witnesses of what constituted such truths. Only by slanting truths can one put a roof on them, and then settle down underneath, if morosely, for when the bad human weather comes, like plagues and viruses?


    That’s fennel for you, Aisling murmured, half asleep already, and columbines,…”

    Three blokes and two girls coming out of a night club, one of them a convent girl called Aisling – in the area, too, an Indian grocer who stayed open late, but manages to push away trouble – names of streets given to give context of ambiance, if you should know the place already – and, showing off in front of Aisling, one bloke fisticuffs another bloke pissing in some woman’s garden as revenge for what he had done to another bloke’s sister, but that pissing bloke has a weak heart, not that they know till seeing the papers next day…
    The aftermath is itself like a Shakespearean tragedy, I guess. A quiet reflective one, if possible. Soul-searching.
    Bravado should have been a character in The Tempest, I guess. Along with those other drunken blokes with Trinculo….


    “She found Elizabeth Bowen for herself.”

    …as I did. The only author one needs to discover for oneself, rather than be told about by others. This Trevor story, meanwhile, FEELS like a masterpiece. A librarian called Graillis who we infer had a sort of affair with a woman by sharing fiction literature with her. As I do with you all by means of my reviews towards a gestalt of human love and fiction love. Making both more real. And, what is more, I relished Graillis turning down, via a solicitor, this woman’s financial legacy towards him from her will. His own wife (whom he may have thus betrayed) was already dead, anyway. Such a legacy would have polluted the gestalt, I sense. Be careful what memories and venues one may revisit or else one may destroy everything, I say.


    “It made him miss her more, sitting there with the same programmes coming on, her voice not commenting any more. They would certainly have watched the whole of the ceremony today, but naturally they wouldn’t have attended it in person, being Protestants.”

    An old man, recently widowed, as that quote suggests, watches the Pope (on TV) in Phoenix Park upon a visit to Ireland. He is flat-sitting for Catholics who had gone in person to see the Pope. Burglars, you see, were at work on days like that. Taking advantage of all the absences from home. We are indeed introduced to two louts and their subsequent flirtations with girls after they had ended up almost strangling the old man, but leaving him still alive to identify them…something they regretted.
    Yet, no matter, it is old geezers like me whom they are offering up today to the great God plague, so there you go. Even the story itself seems more interested in spending time with the young burgling louts (one of them called Mangan) than with the old man.

    ‘Why’d they be bothered with an old geezer like that?’ Mangan said, and they felt better still.

  20. A masterpiece — beware spoilers…


    “I have been re-reading now the short stories of Somerset Maugham. Superior to his novels, I believe. In particular I like ‘The Kite’.”

    I shall now make The Kite the next story that I shall read for the first time in my already on-going review of Somerset Maugham’s stories here.
    Meanwhile, SOLITUDE is the most valuable Trevor Trove of all, I suggest. A story of a small girl and her imaginary friends, one of whom returns when she is old and revisiting where her mother and father stayed in Italy, and she is allowed to open up in solitude about what happened all those years ago when she pushed her mother’s lover down the stairs for the sake of her father. A story of touching moments and perfect phrasing as that high social class is brought to life with such subtle hauntings, such turnings of blind eyes, such poignant attrition of a beautiful life that is drawn from childhood to age, beautiful if only inasmuch as it creates this masterpiece of literature. Perfection by airbrushing and nuance.

  21. Pingback: The Kite’s Flier | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS — A golden sphere in fey balance between clarity and confusion


    “They fell in love when A Whiter Shade of Pale played all summer.”

    Later, after marriage, on to Brahms and Mahler. A long marriage, just like mine — so far.
    But we did not, do not, have our Michingthorpe, a name, if only the name, that reminds me of Widmerpool. An undercurrented adjunct to this couple’s married life, an assumption, a taken-for-granted, a fixture and fitting that is not quite fixed or fitted, amid the business of publishing and seeking signed originals of literati. Michingthorpe, the Internet browser or roamer, fixing connections, fitting out gestalts, like I do in these reviews? The wife in the fictional-true marriage of this story has the hunch that M as bachelor loves her, without realising he loves her. The marriage is about to move to a Sussex oast house, and M is not a country man, and he has no car. He is a wide eyed innocent, so you can guess things happen instinctively as if in secret that he will move into an outhouse part of their new home? Well, another wonderful story that radiates out with our own readerly instincts about the story, but perhaps it also needs an asterisk to an important yet still unwritten footnote. William Trevor fiction in general feels it has always been part of my life, and I now hardly realise that it has, over the last month or two, really only just moved in with me. Sorry, with US. That’s where the two marriages differ. The unannounced love for this burgeoning fiction is mine alone. It will live in our log cabin in the back garden, no doubt. And, oh yes, in this story’s case, on the Internet where I ever roam.


    ‘You take trouble,’ he said. ‘I thought you’d be the kind. I could tell you’d take trouble with yourself.’

    Jasmin, is she 15, 16, 17, or just 12? Is she Angie, not Jasmin? Why the missing e at the end? Stripped bark legs and flat chest, meets an older man – 29? – as an assignation arranged on an on-line chat room. Grab cranes in amusement arcade, he wins her a necklace. He works for the courts he says. Or does he appear in front of them!

    “They passed the tumbler back and forth between them. She drank from where his lips had been; she wanted to do that. He saw her doing it and he smiled at her.”

    “She waited, as she had waited then too, seeing again the little tortoises and the racing cars, hearing the Spice Girls.”

    A poignant slice of modern life. Reminds me Trevor did not die till 2016. I wonder if he enjoyed the Spice Girls.

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