30 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!

  13. RUNNING AWAY

    “He does suggest that love abnormalizes—“

    The attritional, with herb quite satisfying life’s interregnum in Italy after she separates from her husband Roy, story of Henrietta as married at home in England to the intensely ‘sprawling’ Roy, who unaccountably falls in love with one of his students…Sharon (!) Tamm in granny glasses, who once had a fling with the mystical Orange People cult. Her fling with Roy, too, ceases, and Henrietta seems obliged to leave Italy to fulfil her marital duties with now even more sprawling Roy! A slice of life that perhaps seemed more at home in the mid to late 20th century than it would now. The style is honed to perfection, though. A perfect style for life’s imperfections and abnormalities.

  14. A TRINITY

    “He chose for them a package holiday at a very reasonable price: an air flight from Gatwick airport,….”

    Ironic that today of all days Gatwick Airport has been closed because of Covid-19! If you accidentally boarded another type of plane in the triangulated coordinates of alternate worlds, you might have escaped this dire Corona of attrition around me. And if you thought the previous story above was attritional, well, this one is even more so! The story of Keith and Dawne, a marital synergy that was so accident-prone that they even foolishly triangulated motives with an elderly ‘uncle’ with whom they lived in a flat above his newsagency which a Mrs Withers managed. The ‘uncle’ chose holidays for this childless couple, Keith who was stature-challenged and his wife Dawne, and the holidays they spent were intended for the ‘uncle’s’ side of their triangulated motives, i.e. for his own vicarious pleasure. And the main part of the plot involves the couple accidentally arriving in Switzerland instead of Venice, a fact for which they would never be forgiven by the ‘uncle’. It is a sort of pathetic ‘carry on’ film as expressed by a fine stylist like Trevor. And I expect it’s still carrying on now! Can a trinity be triangulated or a meringue Williams be mentioned so many times without the reader wanting one?

  15. ROSE WEPT

    Gooseberry fools, or not, this is another story (randomly following the previous one above) where the accident-prone are touchingly portrayed, with a touch of absurdism, too, and Mr Bouverie has been tutoring borderline pupils in his home for ages, and Rose was the final one before he retired. Rose, herself so typically and sadly borderline, a destiny of being crucified upon life’s betrayal. And she knew (by something she once witnessed) that, while Mr B tutored her in one room, a male visitor came surreptitiously into the house with his own latch-key, either to service Mrs B, at best an illicit love affair, one day a week, while her husband tutored Rose below. Now no more, no doubt. Luckily for Rose this secret scandal or gossip had made her more popular when chatting with her girl friends in the cafe about it – and we have these friends named for us and there should be a different story about each of them, I reckon. (All this revealed to us during the story’s plot of a sad meal given by Rose’s parents for Mr B to thank him for being responsible for the success that borderline Rose now rose slightly above borderline – a meal for which, even more sadly, Mrs B was said to be too unwell to attend.)

  16. A COMPLICATED NATURE

    “He disliked all Jewish people, he wanted to say, because of his ex-wife and her lack of understanding.”

    Attridge is coldly prim and proper, once spurned by a wife while on honeymoon in Siena, now an ex-wife, yet he is more complex than what is reported about him here, as Attridge himself, if not the author, tries to prove to the readers, against the grain of his portrayal here, all of this during a suspenseful and cringingly amusing story about a visit of a woman from the flat above who seems to have had a regular sexual assignment with a man just like the regular assignment (coincidentally (as so far I have been reading some of these stories randomly!)!) in the previous story above! And that man has apparently just abruptly died while eating a post-coital meal ‘without a stitch on’. The feelings of emotion she tugs at and induces in Attridge’s seemingly cold soul, for him to help her (Attridge, a man who enjoys art like Wagner and Velasquez), these feelings you will have to read about for yourself. Sometimes I don’t know how a clever Trevor story ticks, but it works however you factor various complicated factors into it! Like the smell of sexual intercourse à la Hemingway. And the paintings of Negroes in the woman’s flat.

    “‘I could kill you,’ his ex-wife had shouted at him. ‘I’d kill you if you weren’t dead already.’”

  17. LE VISITEUR

    “Alone at her table when her boorish husband left her to fend for herself, she had been disturbed by a stranger’s gaze and had not rejected it.”

    We learn about young Guy, his regular visits to the island, the older couple he visits, a set piece, his mother back home and the woman in this couple non persona grata to each other, but why? Guy and the couple always go to this restaurant. Almost a choreography of interaction in this genius loci. Except, Guy, with glances across the restaurant, falls in love with the very thin woman with the boorish drunk as a husband. He helps the waiter take the drunk to the bedroom, where he choreographically, as it were, makes love with the thin wife… and in quite random and approximate tune with the previous two stories above (!), there is deadpan talk at least of an almost licit illicit sexual fling in contiguity with the sleeping boor … as it were. A choreographically perfect story, with not even one predetermined dance of manners for fate to dance to. Just what is, is.

  18. TERESA’S WEDDING

    A short wry portrayal of an Irish wedding, the bride already pregnant, a wedding in the 20th century, with all manner of characters, their ideals and denials, pretence in future happiness or in drinking, comprising laddish talk, girl talk, too, and the mistakes made in previous marriages that happened in this lounge bar, one husband outside in the car the whole time reading comics to his children. There is also mention of one *prospective* husband, a vet called Des Foley whose car stinks of disinfectant and probably a bit too old for her, but he is the least important character of all, so why mention him in my review? Perhaps, though, he is the most important – since sex is acting like animals in a field, I guess! Nothing to write home about, this story. Nothing happening here. Move on. That fact perhaps, though, makes this story what it is. Like the previous story above, just what is, is.

  19. A PERFECT RELATIONSHIP

    “The reticence they shared was natural to them, but they knew – each as certainly as the other – what was not put into words.”

    An older man latches up with Chloë after teaching her languages at night school, an easy relationship to fall into and even easier for her at least gratuitously to fall out of. Until she comes back, equally gratuitously, with its key.
    In the meantime, he visits her parents in Winchelsea who never really approved of the relationship. To find out something they cannot provide. Goes to the pub with the Dad. Then he goes to a wine bar and imagines a man reading certain books of literature for show in the bar, or was it one book? Imagines him as his rival for Chloë. Scrambled eggs notwithstanding, this is a perfect story, but not one about a perfect relationship. Yet, some endless irony of story-telling paradoxically makes both pretty perfect.

    “There was a photograph of her framed on the sitting-room mantelpiece, a bare-footed child of nine or ten in a bathing dress, laughing among sandcastles that had been dotted around her in a ring. She hated that photograph, she used to say.”

  20. OFFICE ROMANCES

    “She felt sorry for him because he had only one good eye.”

    Well, Gordon Spelle, let me spell it out for you, is a better man than Mr Bellhatcher in this author’s Kinkies. Well, MUCH better. He wants to be a dance bandsman. But he still is an awful man as he, 38, I recall, and married, takes advantage of the new employee called Angela, single and 26 (a new secretary to Miss Ivydale) and Angela — with an ‘inferiority complex’ in this delightfully dated story — is taken advantage of after hours by Mr Spelle ….. but Miss Ivydale, at 50-something herself, is being taken advantage of by another married man in the office. I sense the story’s ending subtly indicates a future Sapphic affair between the two women! Anyone notice this before? Or was it simply too subtle? Spelling-out something obvious is an art form, perhaps.

  21. THE POTATO-DEALER

    “Ragweed and gorse grew in profusion, speckled rock-surfaces erupted. It was her favourite field, perhaps because she had always heard it cursed and as a child had felt sorry for it.”

    Possibly one of the most stoically what-is-is piece of fiction in all literature. A girl has relations with a priest and bears his child; the shame felt by her guardian uncle and his sister (the girl’s widowed mother), the necessary shame at that time and in that community; the buying by the uncle of the grubbily down to earth middle man of a potato-dealer as a show husband to obviate that shame….well, the repercussions are adeptly revealed, giving a provokingly deadpan panoply of a living past, the girl (now woman) the only one — among all the story’s characters (seen and unseen characters) — who has principles that we can now admire, even though they were instinctive principles that really made no sense within the otherwise pitifully stoical jigsaw as a gestalt of settled life that everyone else had (equally instinctively) built up as a Godgiven necessity.

  22. MR MCNAMARA

    “That day I had a chocolate birthday cake, and sardine sandwiches, which were my favourite, and brown bread and greengage jam, a favourite also.”

    One of those truly great stories, as almost all Trevor’s stories nearly or completely are, but this one completely IS!
    The story narrated by the older version of a 13 year old boy living near Dublin during the second world war – alongside the various politics then and there involved, together with the relationship of Catholics and Protestants, all through the eyes of this Protestant boy, now grown up. His father had a small granary and mill and when he travelled to Dublin on business he always met a bar room friend called Mr McNamara whereby he heard secondhand about the idiosyncrasies of Mr M’s family, and about which the boy and his mother and his three sisters later heard thirdhand about this living eccentricity of a family in Dublin. Today is his 13th birthday and he gets a boxkite from his parents, a book, a goldfish and a kaleidoscope from his sisters, and a gold dragon from Mr M in Dublin, brought home for the boy by his father. The implications of these presents live on in your mind. As do the even more eccentric behaviour of teachers in the boarding school where the boy is sent posthumously by his suddenly deceased Dad, having died on the night after his 13th birthday. We can easily understand the need for the boy, now almost grown up, to go to the bar in Dublin to seek out Mr M, simply to meet him for the first time, that man whose life he used to live vicariously. I predicted the ending, but I wonder if the disappointed narrator was wrong about what conclusions he drew in hindsight, just as I was wrong, too, to predict such an ending. This story will live on forever in my mind. Along with Mr Dingle’s fantasies as a side dish! And Nipper Achen, too! But, of course, the narrator may have been wrong about these more minor characters, too!!? Filtered second or third hand to us?

  23. BIG BUCKS

    “But America lived for both of them on the screen high up above the bar of the half-and-half…”

    It seems appropriate that John Michael and Fina fell in love with America, specially by means of that vicarious screen life in the thus-named pub where she worked – half and half not necessarily making one. Strangely, reading these stories in random order, and the previous one above I thought was the ultimate story about vicariousness, and here we now have this story. Even with Bat Quinn who had helped instil the American dream into them, his knowledge of America was secondhand, too. Young John Michael and Fina in Ireland incited to live the American dream, John Michael going out first to settle their place there and his phone calls and letters back home to her filled me a knowledge of human nature that I did not think I ever had. I will leave any new reader of this story to decide secondhand whether they know from what I’m saying in this review how the story of John Michael and Fina actually ends, before they read it! (Fina having ‘fin’ built in being accidental.)

  24. AFTERNOON DANCING

    “Grantly Palmer was a Jamaican, a man whom neither had agreed to dance with when he’d first asked them because of his colour. […] In the end they became quite friendly with Grantly Palmer,… […] Their husbands would have been astonished enough if they knew they went to afternoon tea-dancing…”

    Poppy and Alice, and their men’s-men husbands who supported Crystal Palace, Poppy a ‘holy terror’, Alice more timid, go each year to Southend as a foursome. In their fifties, Poppy tempts Alice to the afternoon tea-dancing in London as a bit of extra-mural excitement, an era when social mœurs were different, following the war in which both husbands served, Poppy having an affair with an air warden when the husbands were away…Well, as you follow the audit trail of this story, you will believe it, feel it, live it, until it reaches one of Trevor’s best pathetic/ bathetic endings. With a death among two friends and racial typecasting (or is it?) and other matters somehow forming a pattern that today’s mind can’t fathom, nor exactly approve of. But death seems more acceptable today, brushed off as numbers of casualties totted up in an even more insidiously negative fate than the second world war had been, a war which not many of us alive today, if any, had once lived through. Yet, Alice herself couldn’t fathom that pattern, even back then….a pattern as dance or gestalt.

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  25. THE VIRGIN’S GIFT

    Fódla was the girl he played with as a child, a virgin sweetheart from whom he was called one day of days…

    “He sensed the character of each one of the seven days and kept alive the different feeling that each inspired, knowing when he awoke which one it was.”

    “‘Find solitude,’ the Virgin had instructed the second time, after he had been seventeen years at the abbey, and again it seemed like punishment, as it had on the morning of Fódla’s tears.”

    It was Thursday when the Virgin visited him a third time in his lonely house, where she had led him the first time. Now an old man, in his house of roof sods on the island he had waded to, after leaving what he thought was a lifetime vocation in the abbey. He had dreamt he walked ‘all Ireland’, now he walked all island…

    “Slowly, when a little more time had passed, he made his way to the different shores of the island.”

    And he walks back, wades back, as if led, to the abbey that he thought he had lost – and, by “confusion’s dance”, as it were, he is upon another day of days that I sense around me. The sacred day of Easter Sunday in my own real-time during a world’s lockdown. A rhapsody of a broken now. A gift that keeps on giving.

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