19 thoughts on “Additional Stories by William Trevor


    “; she always came in February.”

    February, today, I note, too. Not only in Florence, then. She always came, full stop? The word ‘nymphomaniac’ is bandied about, after all! The man in this story is almost sexually harassed by a classy woman, but a woman who was not afraid to seek the affairs she needed, pretending she had met him before, but we gradually learn about the man’s backstory, too, in addition to his writing tourist guidebooks of cities like Florence, where there is a dark side as well as a light, judging by the local newspapers. Which of these two strangers is the angel, which the virgin, I wonder. Looking at all the Annunciations in Uffizi can hardly help, I guess, in deciding. A treasure of a missing person story that will linger long in the Trevorine memory. I wonder if in fact they had met before…


    “‘This is the new treatment,’ he said, taking from the blue baize cover on the table the minute hand of a grandfather clock and inserting its point beneath one of my eyelids.”

    This is where Trevor meets Bowen’s Inherited Clock. Proust, too. THE perfect story, surely, as the sickly narrator with a hinted-at finite childhood before dying, a sort of Death in Venice, except it’s regularly San Pietro, and the older man ostensibly and equally regularly fancies his mother, not him. Amid the lazy swimming and the boy’s odd excursions. The man goes regularly, though, it is said, to visit his ‘mad wife’ ensconced in a nearby town. And the boy writes to his father, subject to later enforced censorship for truth’s economy. The boy is still narrating at the end of this story, and so we retain hope in his respect, with him still trying to sketch the perfumeless smoke trees… yes, the perfect story if there ever is one. Sad, but accepting of us as readers. Keeping the hope going.


    “Nobody knew the name of the man with long arms.”

    With the cement company said to be coming to this area of Ireland – the area with this wayside ballroom – he might not have to carry so many heavy stones? So many heavy stories? Bridie, thirty something, goes to the ballroom – pink outside, blue in – every week some miles on her tyre-precarious bike leaving her one-legged dad at home with his Wild West novel. Ireland is the wild west for me, from here in the England of Wolverhampton, not that I know Wolverhampton very well. The ballroom allows no alcohol and only decent songs performed by three regular men, one of whom, the drummer, Bridie has a yen for, I think, but does he for her? A lot of them have their responsibilities with oldsters back home … in this Church undercurrented area. Bridie was once with the nuns? Some bachelors from the hills, coming to the ballroom, are bit more feisty with their sneaky drinking and more physical flirting… and we gradually get to know some of the women, older and younger, plain and pretty, the plain ones waiting outside the Gents to catch their man coming out. Tonight Bridie has some sort of epiphany. Will she ever come back here to dance and eat crisps and lemonade? Test her tyres or shrugging off or accepting kisses…? Disappointed past, disappointed future. But happy enough without knowing why? But what about the man with long arms? And the Optrex and Bridie’s tears? This story, meanwhile, somehow managed for the first time to get under my skin, made me feel it is a shame I am a loner – and humanity, however frail, is worth getting to know more.


    “She’d had a dream a week ago, a particularly vivid dream in which the Prime Minister had stated on television that the Germans had been invited to invade England since England couldn’t manage to look after herself any more.”

    And there was a ‘polish factory’ down the road from where the old woman lived. Judging by the references in this story, this takes place and was probably written in the 1960s, and the awful children in it grew up to vote for Brexit in the second decade of the 21st century. This is the story of a then 87 year old woman who has her kitchen invaded by a ‘hideous yellow’, as she is persuaded to allow children, two of whom have sex in her bed, to redecorate her house as a community work therapy for them. You need to help those from broken homes, she is persuaded. And she is so scared of being considered as senile, she sells out to what is needed of her. With probably death following on fast. A sad and shocking story. One that should have stuck in the communal mind but has now probably vanished, bar this review of it today pointing to its existence. (William Trevor died in November 2016.)


    A generally funny account of a hotel in Galway that changed hands before summer regulars – a headmaster and his wife – arrived for the umpteenth time to see that the manager had died and his son had halved the size of all the rooms with partitions. And other disimprovements. And on the other side of the partition is the headmaster’s once favourite head boy who happens to be on honeymoon with his new wife! Imagine the carry on!
    The two wives get together, while the men go fishing…
    With a final ‘dying fall’ of acceptance that seems to typify something or other about them all.


    “…she wondered where waiters go between meals.”

    There is so much pregnant in this story, expect pregnancy itself. Women have love affairs. And waiters in posh restaurants sometimes looked then like Fred Astaire.
    A father spends his time cleaning his glasses meticulously, his daughter, having abandoned her own shallow love affair, now living with this her father, as his companion. His wife – her mother – now dead – was his companion, too. Their long term holidays in Venice now replicated with his daughter, finding out things about her father like his lusting after the prettier of the foreign tourists. Except it was not really lust, never lust with such people, just mannered needy encounters, just a means to extend his slightly predatory behaviour as a male in a male world, and an aesthetic sense of the pretty woman. Disappointment all round, except Venice itself is depicted very prettily and undisappointingly here. But what of his little lies and his cheapskating over cups of coffee in fashionable areas of Venice, the odd vaporetto trip and, even if unmentioned here, another death like Dirk’s, I wonder? His daughter might spread her wings again, if so, and make good her mistake. Have an affair with someone like Fred Astaire?


    “Bottled Smithwick’s was his drink.”

    Dual situations — (1) two marriages ended by the husbands’ deaths and (2) two sisters in those marriages — in Venn overlap, Catherine’s widowhood by trustworthy Matthew, now faced with the dilemma of a bill that apparently Matthew hadn’t paid in cash to a possibly untrustworthy odd job man, no proof of receipt whilst Catherine had got the cash from the Nationwide and given to Matthew to give to the odd job man, and Margaret’s sister Alicia, also widowed, but by a less trustworthy husband who could well have failed to pay a debt like this.
    Think of this overlap, and might you write the same story as this? Well, you might, but it would not be a William Trevor story. Two sisters who had duly done their husbandry, for good or ill. Now living together in the blue house opposite the convent where they both went to school.


    “The only aspect of Hilda he didn’t touch upon was her bedroom appetite, night starvation as he privately dubbed it.”

    His plain wife Hilda needing her feeding of sex by her husband Norman — Norman on a hard working travel agent counter, and suffers her desires, but meets a voluptuous naive lady called Marie working in nearby chemist, and I will touch upon the beautifully or grotesquely large bathroom, left mostly untenanted on the second floor of a grand London hotel, a bathroom surreptitiously resorted to in the Great Western Royal Hotel, for want of other nooks where Norman and Marie can make their love. This indeed is both humorous and sad, seedy and hopeful with innocent hope and children to have once his marital coast is clear, often grotesque as the decade of the nineteen sixties itself, a bathroom to die for, even a bathroom in a Beatles song at the end of the innocently decadent decade, I guess. Never were there such pent up appetites let loose as from the ill-fitting corsets of time and hopeless hope. But hope, nevertheless. Hilda perhaps had it right, all along.


    “‘Her death got in the way,’ he said.”

    Two brothers, one, Paul, a priest called Father, the other, Francis, not the current Pope, but a humble shopkeeper, devoted, in a lace-curtained room, to the two brothers’ mother, the mother devoted to the shopkeeper brother who is also tolerant of the two brothers’ sister and her dud of a husband. The priest himself more of a hedonist cigarette-ashy drinker, I felt: also a priest — for the sake of the trip’s gestalt with Galilee — who blocks a telegram’s news of their mother’s sudden death when both brothers are on this trip in the Holy Land, neither brother, though, interested in any advert there for “writhing nakedness.” Did Christ writhe, and was he naked? The story does not answer this question – nor did it ask it for that matter…
    A touching story about Francis and his mother. Mann had his Death in Venice, Trevor this Death in Jerusalem, but not even one Tadzio in sight, to grow old and then to drop from a future’s last balcony. But who knows?


    “The waiter said that you were mad. Am I crazy too? Can people go mad like that, for a little while on a train? Out of loneliness and locked-up love? Or desperation?”

    Probably the most remarkable William Trevor story I have yet read! A boy called Carruthers who is 13 and the aged 38 undermatron from the boarding school he attends happening to use the same train home after the term finishes. He talks wildly and salaciously to the train-buffet waiter of his mother and about his school — with the undermatron sitting at the same dinner table on the train. This seems to be a customary event, except it is a different waiter this time. She later tells the boy about her own backstory and her parents in a seaside bungalow like mine, That quote above hints at the poignant undercurrents involved but there is far more to this story than meets the eye. I even wondered whether they were all role-playing different parts to those of their real selves, or vice versa. A story that needs to be read with urgency. How have I left it so late in my life to do so?
    Going home, as we all eventually do.


    “Does it happen, she wonders in other people’s lives that a single event influences al subsequent time?”

    An exquisite love story, even more exquisite in that the love was perfect yet unrequited. Or it WAS requited, after all, simply by the sacrifices of each party, with the sense that it was meant to be thus, not crude, but restrained in its perfection of opportunity passed over. Charlotte spent an idyllic time in France at the age of 17, in a family of children she looked after and grew to know, as well as the fallible grown-ups of the family, including the other half of that perfection in one fleeting afternoon. Later, in older age in England, that fleeting experience colours not only the rest of her life but also the artistic prints relating to that time in France, prints she makes to sell for rooms where other perfect afternoons are spent by others or even where a cheating requital transpires, but, whichever the case, her prints contribute to the POSSIBILITY of perfection, if not its certainty.


    “She died in fact of pneumonia.”

    Raymond’s old nanny, that is, a topic of conversation, her death, at the regular Autumn Cocktail party that he attends. A long term bachelor friend of the hosts, but is his presence endured or relished? I THINK I know. I had tried to accost him in small talk but he was co-opted by Mrs Fitch, a bit older than him, in her cups, with her incantatory refrain of ‘in vino veritas’, a veritable prehensile tactile predator of a woman, who also watches her husband flirting with a younger woman in the corner. But who do you believe – me or the author? Mrs F or her husband? Raymond who is the author’s point of view or something or someone quite else that is implicit as the deploying of incantatory obsessions about perverts and bores and small talk leitmotifs that seem trivial but are vastly important, yes, the obsessions deployed by this seemingly autonomous Pinteresque nightmare? Orderliness versus chaos, whereby “Obsessions are a disease…”

    “Laughter was apparently the thing, a commodity that reflected the shallowness of minds too lazy to establish correctly the facts about people.”


    “‘The boys are waiting for their tea,’ said Dympna. ‘Mrs Digby-Hunter, you’d better prick the sausages.’”

    As Dympna and the other 15 year old maid – at the cramming boys’ boarding school – threaten to do, too! A story of a statue with another statue marriage, Mrs D-H, gone to fat, and Mr D-H, once a stepping-ladder and vending machine salesman, now a headmaster here in a financially successful cramming institution, brutal with the boys but without bruises. The maids threaten a scandal, waxworks, face sacks, shame for the teaching culprits after one of the pain in the neck boys dies… sad, absurdist, so politically incorrect in today’s terms, the story sort of crawls off the page to leave a nasty taste behind it, and a squashed white slug.

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