15 thoughts on “*

  1. AFTER RAIN

    “Angular and thin, her dark hair cut short, her long face strikingly like the sharply chisel faces of Modigliani, a month ago she passed out of her twenties. She is alone in the Pensione Cesarina because a love affair is over.”

    This the delicate Thomas-Mann or Proustian portrait of Harriet, come here on a self-searching holiday to Italy – where the geography of the tables in the dining area, and the spaces between them, is dwelt upon by the text – instead of going to Skyros with her ex who broke off their affair in a cinema foyer: another emotional geography of timing. As is her walk to the church where she shelters from the rain to look at the painting of the Virgin and the Annunciation. Apparently the Angel chose an emotional geography of timing, too, for his visit … After Rain. This is a story of gentle but momentous momentariness. To be read, too, just after rain. Something I learnt too late. (The Pensione Cesarina is where she visited with her parents in childhood. Her palimpsest of memories of this genius loci with today’s is another emotional geography: her parents having since amicably broken up. They were never properly married other than legally, it seems.)

  2. LUNCH IN WINTER

    “You couldn’t keep going on journeys down Memory Lane, and the more you did the more you realised that it was just an ugly black tunnel.”

    A feisty songtitle-seasoned storyline from the point of view of Nancy, late middle aged woman of the performing stage always waiting for the next part, and her various men she married or fancied over the years, some just waiters in bars, including meeting again by chance a previous (now widowed) husband from the wartime, and seeing each other weekly, with perhaps a trial remarriage. I have just one image of Nancy in a photo with a sunflower, and why that should be so is only a small part of other things that can be turned into a nostalgic song, without it having been a song at all in the first place! Catch a Falling Star would have been a better choice?

  3. LOW SUNDAY, 1950

    “, and poor little Joe Paddy hadn’t been able to say anything in response, shivering from head to toe as if he had the flu.”

    Strangely, and quite coincidentally, or preternaturally, the next Trevor story that came up in the bizarre system I have in dotting between the books, new and old stories, is another story majoring upon a brother and sister relationship, one in interface with Irish history, and yes, another rare story, the second in a row, that I do not fully understand!
    I did love the siblings’ interface together, and the memories of their aunt and other characters.

    “She pricked the sausages and laid them on the fat that had gone liquid in the pan.”

  4. IN ISFAHAN

    “…for months she’d had a nagging little cough, which usually came on in the evenings. It was always the same: whenever she returned to England she got a cough.”

    The English man and woman, Normanton and Iris Smith, meet on an ill conducted tour bus (it is engaging to read about that bus tour in this genius loci of Isfahan in Persia), and, as part of a compelling and atmospheric narrative, they gradually approximate each other, but whether they fully come to approximate romantically beyond approximation itself by the end of the story you are never sure till you reach that end. Their respective backstories of still running marriages strike me as sad, but are they sufficiently sad to transcend expectations? Iris Smith straddles Bombay and Bournemouth, just as Normanton straddles decision and indecision. The adept art of this story is that you are never sure about your expectations for them till you ARE sure. But even then, other readers may have a a different class of expectations to your own, I guess. The cough, meanwhile, no doubt, continues.

  5. SACRED STATUES

    “, as so often she had seen the spread of angels’ wings emerging from roughly sawn wood.”

    The man and his pregnant wife and their existing children are in desperate financial straits, despite his almost preternatural skill to carve holy statues for the church, a business originally under the sponsoring of a woman who has also fallen on hard times. A touching scene where the wife tries to sell her pregnancy to a barren couple for money — and I thought of his carvings as a sort of birth and unaccountably this thought became a palimpsest of sorrow for me. A metaphor for our times in 2020 where all human life is threatening or being threatened to return into vegetable matter. Or stone. A sort of reverse birth.

  6. COFFEE WITH OLIVER

    “He wanted to remind her that he had given her life.”

    Oliver lives in Italy, made to live abroad after his divorce, and he suddenly spots his daughter, it being 17 years since he last saw her when she was five. Or did I get those ages wrong? He thought she had come out to find him; he did not then know that his wife, her mother, had died. And apparently it was a coincidence his daughter came to this area of Italy. I love coincidences in literature. My bread and butter when gestalt real-time reviewing. But how did he recognise her after all those years? Was he fed intermittent photos? I forget.
    Sometimes coincidences have identities themselves, senses of familiarity that you cannot explain. They just are. His recognising her was coincident with his marriage’s backstory as a mistake, with the way his wife misjudged his treatment of his own mother when his mother was suffering from dementia, and, yes, again, the fact that his marriage to his daughter’s mother had been a mistake, a mistake that his daughter — whose separate point of view is somehow known to us, in alternating passages of narration — was told about by his wife, her mother. The wife who is now dead. The outcome of his daughter’s eventual surprise at meeting him here in Italy is what will make you read this story, because I am not going to tell you anything more about it. But the relevance of the price of the coffees they had together was possibly even more tempting for you to read this story. And, perhaps, who it was that mended his corrugated roof.

  7. ANGELS AT THE RITZ

    “He wasn’t entirely drunk, he said to himself, he hadn’t turned a certain corner, but the corner was the next thing there was.”

    An ‘outer suburb’ party in the days when middle-class couples threw car-keys into a mêlée in the middle of the room, nobody had heard of LGBTQ, drink driving was commonplace, and, above all, social distancing was not even dreamt about! One married pair in a pair of such couples, old friends from their younger days at the Ritz – now, as part of this house party scenario, try to create a foregone conclusion from the mêlée, despite the slight worry that one of the couples has at there being a young replacement babysitter from Ireland back home. A palimpsest of the two couples’ past and present, with today’s subtly changing drink-induced motives and last gasps or just plain unadmitted despair. And plenty of close dancing. Hard to interpret or scry some of those subtle motives, dulled, as they are, by drink. Trevor is at his most clever when the reader feels that the work being read is written by a predominantly unscryable Aickman, Trevor being such an Aickman but without Aickman’s blatant weirdness.

  8. BD145F0D-3624-4C11-B55A-3E421B558DEATORRIDGE

    “His father had a button business was what he was saying: he’d probably be going into the button business himself.”

    Torridge was that extra strange and gauche boy that often populated the all-boys’ grammar schools in the 50s and 60s of the UK. I was not called Torridge but Noddy in that era of such schools (see here), but I don’t think I was like Torridge at all. Nor did I notice too much the ‘romances’ between the boys as much as they seem to do in this hilarious story. But I did flourish like him as I got older, beyond those clumsy days. And the boys around Torridge who seemed so smart and big in those days have now diminished by comparison to him. A story that is more than just a bit politically incorrect in today’s terms, yes, but so utterly brilliantly written, you will not believe it… A social comedy of its times.

  9. AT OLIVEHILL

    “She knew what they were thinking: that being old you might be aware of death loitering near, but even so death wasn’t always quick about its business.”

    “But faith’s variations mattered less in Ireland all these years later, since faith itself mattered less and influenced less how people lived.”

    A Catholic family with its landed business, the elderly married couple, James and Mollie, in their late 70s, when we first get to know them. The grown up children, two brothers now working this business, and a daughter who got away. The couple had standards (workers and helping maids named in the correct manner of manners), their rightful ways, their faith, but they may not have done it all right, the entropy of the years, possible mismanagement, and in later years the sons found they had to put it over to a golf course. Thankfully, James had died, after we got to know him…

    “It was a good death: he called it that himself.”

    He’d turn in his grave I guess and Mollie hears his memory talking regretfully about the golf course’s superseding of, say, the bluebell wood. She is stoical, regretful, too. Very subtle and complex reactions she shares with us, and according to each of our respective and respectful sophistications of understanding, we each share them back with her via a mutuality between each reader and her character in this fiction as inevitable truth, her own humble wisdom perhaps then transformed with whatever little bit of our own truth we can add to a fading understanding….

    “In the drawing-room she closed imagination down, for it was treacherous and without her say-so would take her into the hostile territory.”

  10. THE DEATH OF PEGGY MEEHAN

    “I have a carnal desire for a shadow,…”

    A disturbing story of a haunting told from the narrative point of view of the disturbed victim himself, brought up by his parents, older than most parents, and pious Catholics, the mother who fears fleas in sandy beaches and in the picture houses of the time. Picture houses running continuous film programmes where THE END often comes first. Every year the parents take him to stay at his aunt’s boarding house for priests, and one year a chain-smoking priest takes him to a picture house to see a film where there is much kissing, our narrator remembers. And our narrator blames coincidence and/or a curse when he thinks of a girl from school called Peggy in connection with the kissing, and then dreaming the same day that she died in a car accident. She actually haunts him into his middle age, because she actually died from catching diphtheria in its then epidemic, a death coincident with and/or caused by his dream.
    Following the instincts of my reading experiences in the last few years, I sometimes guiltily fear that my gestalt real-time reviewing’s synergies and synchronicities cause things to happen in real life …. and vice versa.

  11. GILBERT’S MOTHER

    “Staring at the leg of a chair or at his own foot, he managed not to blink for minutes on end.”

    The continual strobing of trusting acceptance with mistrusting suspicion, as a mother considers her grown-up son’s absences, in the light of his chequered history of mental health, and the crimes that are committed and the chances of his ability to have been there each time… I, for one, now mention her son’s autistic or obsessive chatting about photocopying, and then, I notice, his decrying a copy of a famous American film called THE BIG SLEEP in an English setting…
    Either way, we learn much about both Gilbert and his mother. Could she have been created as the originator of each incriminating circumstance as a way to neutralise her misissued offspring’s misuse. Fiction weaponised.

  12. MRS SILLY

    “In fact, he did hint to the Reverend Green that he wasn’t certain about being quite ready for the occasion, but the Reverend Green told him not to be silly.”

    Michael the young eight year old boy is split between his upstanding father now married to Gillian with twin daughters, and then sent by his father to the latter’s old boarding-school, and his mother (divorced from his father) who disarmingly self-styled herself as Mrs Silly. A simple-minded, voluble, affectionate woman. Michael loves his mother but is embarrassed when she visits the boarding school… I loved all the larger than life characters at the school, but, above all, I felt very sorry for Mrs Silly. It brought me nearer to tears than I think any story has previously brought me. Too much happened for me to tell you about it. And, oh yes, I unaccountably wanted to know more about Peggy Urch. Trevor should have written a whole story with her as the main character.
    Incidentally. I read this story by random chance after the previous one about Gilbert and his mother – an interesting comparison and contrast!

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