YET MORE WILLIAM TREVOR STORIES continued from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/22207-2/
And here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/21735-2/
Other links: Continued from https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/01/13/collected-stories-william-trevor/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/01/13/later-stories-by-william-trevor/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/10/additional-stories-by-william-trevor/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/01/04/last-stories-william-trevor/
My continuing reviews will be shown in the comment stream below…
“‘…I have seldom seen a more gorgeous dress.’ / ‘Yes,’ she replied with simple gravity. ‘It comes from Rome. Would you like to touch it?‘”
— ‘The Hospice’ by Robert Aickman
THE BLUE DRESS
“She spoke as though these fictional characters were real.”
This refers to beautiful 20 years old Dorothea’s belief in Jane Austen characters but I feel the same about William Trevor’s; her father is Dr Lysarth (‘Middlemarch’ connection evolving in my mind?) — she is picked up in Bath by the narrator (a divorced middle-aged foreign correspondent journalist whose family were in the fishing business!) He and Dorothea develop towards marriage, and amid the inferred telepathy of her family at a croquet party, he is somehow accepted by her sterling brothers and father alike. The narrator and Dorothea have chequered backstories, though. As all the world trouble spots do, Belfast et al that our journalist narrator visits on his job. A stink at core we are reaping today? Somehow the word ‘somehow’ makes sense for once to me, with the Lysarths’ backstory involving Dorothea pushing a girl friend – when they were both children – to a daredevil death in a blue dress, upon falling from climbing a tree. Dr Lysarth signed the death certificate…A logjam of spirit akin to the pre-marital prank in Trevor’s THE TELEPHONE GAME I read a day or so ago HERE. Crimes as human fallibilities transcending evilly their own jokiness or otherwise fictional detachment. A situation that we all excuse today by mass telepathy now enhanced by mass electronic communication? These two Trevor stories are in mutual synergy, now, perhaps for the first time.
Also reading no-senses today in Ramsey Campbell’s ‘The Wise Friend’ HERE, I could not help but quote this from this Trevor story: “, the horror was nonsensical.”
Middlemarch: Dorothea Brooke, Dr Lydgate
THE TEDDY-BEARS’ PICNIC
Hilarious and disturbing in equal measures. A “gooey awfulness”, ending with a ‘Blue Dress’ accident-syndrome moment : a deliberate elbowing into a sundial. Yet it starts and endures as a recognisable middle-class social comedy as depicted in the mid 1970s, an era I remember well when I was at a similar age of my late twenties, as we meet people here who were friends as children in 1957, and have sporadically carried on a tradition from then onward of the eponymous picnic, each of them accompanied by their named teddy, including teddies for the friends’ husbands and wives, and there is a gramophone playing the famous song about such picnics! Edwin, a wilfully stolid stockbroker, has married one of these friends and he is utterly aghast at this silly tradition, when she tells him about it, as another such picnic is on the horizon. She thought she had already told him about this tradition when they were courting…
Well, to cut this long fascinating and humanity-revelatory story short, Edwin’s shock at this news is a catalyst to many realisations about their shaky marriage. And on the day of the said picnic, he gets drunk and climbs to the roof of the house where the garden venue is being held, as he once did before as a child in another setting he disliked … and one wonders at his sense of incredibility “that he had married a girl who hadn’t grown up. None of them had grown up, none of them had desired to belong in the adult world.” And Edwin’s repeated roof incident, amid thoughts of that halfway house of (im)maturity, is in striking synergy with some aspects so far of ‘The Wise Friend’ I happen by chance to be concurrently reading HERE. All that and the ‘Blue Dress’ deliberate-accident syndrome, and not forgetting the elbow and the sundial….
THE TIME OF YEAR
“The green was of so dark a shade that it might almost have been black.”
Valerie at 20 is always reminded each Christmas of the moonlit Christmas Day swim in the sea she shared, eventually tragically, with a 14 year old boy, the same age then as herself, at the time thinking they were in love. She attends today, near Christmas, an academic ‘party’ with her professor and his wife, a marriage on the rocks without either realising it, a dead wood party, full of brownness, lethal cakes the wife had made, and other perfectly but dimly described students each with a strangeness or downbeat lean of mind on the brink of tawdry lives, balancing teacups, or a hidden vodka flask… Valerie’s once tragic convulsion has lingered till now but has granted her depth, she suddenly realises in a new convulsion-wiping epiphany, beyond such tawdriness and lack of hope. A textured story beyond its dead wood, whereby I think Valerie deserved more than the Professor’s playing on a gramophone to them of Tchaikovsky’s pathetic symphony.
Mahler or Schoenberg would have been better, I guess.
Valerie was indeed beyond the otherwise shallow gestalt of this story, and thus deepens it intensely… A solitude had been made for her, while the others “belonged to each other, separate yet part of a whole.”
BEING STOLEN FROM
A domestically complex story of child adoption involving the source mother’s regret, the new mother’s distressing quandary, subtle intimidation, emotional blackmail, marital fragilities, prejudices concerning nationality or religion, right or wrong decisions weighed in some instinctive balance and even homophobia. It is essentially what I have found to be satisfyingly Trevorine where the reader is fully and actively embroiled in characters’ agonising, too. Imputing intentions and making judgements.
For Trevor, a rare shallow story of a schoolgirl and her teacher, and the reputation the latter had of bedding schoolgirls. The girl has a boy called Chinny sick with love for her, so he implores her. Yet the quote above is the girl’s own sick-with-love daydreams about Robert Tennyson, schoolteacher and Shakespeare lover. We eventually find out more about him that turns on its head our prejudices about what we originally thought about him.
A lesson for our vigilante times, where real monsters among us seek to kill others among us who they have deemed to be monsters so as instinctively to transcend their own unadmitted monsterishness?
“He couldn’t distance himself; the past refused to be the past.”
Except the past came closer at the end in the sunshiny form of the ghost of his beloved, sadly missed late wife. Paradoxically so, counterintuitively, too. As this widowed clergyman Canon in one of Ireland’s close communities, often dwelling on his four daughters, and the sudden welcome return of his wayward youngest daughter, his favourite daughter despite her difficult adolescence, and her vanishing to England to work in egg packing, with no letters back home. Now smoking Three Castles cigarettes. She as the helpmate on bringing her London boy friend to the land of his, that boy friend’s, potentially violent political interests back home… which brings me back to the beginning of this story’s review. No longer paradoxical, no longer counterintuitive. Just a comfort as winter approaches.
“The early morning air hadn’t yet been infected by the smell of London, houses were as silent as the houses of the dead.”
A middle-aged couple, Malcolm and Jessica, thankful for small mercies, despite a twenty-something son upstairs who collects model aeroplanes, and all that that implies. Regular Sunday drinks with neighbours and their guests, all their domestic and sexual politics, their hang-ups, their silly names and even sillier personalities. It all seems to take on a new almost positive meaning and purpose in life as we make do with making do today, even with (or specially because of) today’s on-going impossibility in meeting up like that. Whatever lane one’s memory travels down. And will Malcom ever finish reading Edwin Drood?
“Like an infection, all of it slipped across the garden, through the cigarette smoke…”
THE PARADISE LOUNGE
“They were here, Beatrice informed herself again, not really to say goodbye to one another but to commit adultery for the last time.”
Thirty something Beatrice’s adultery with a manufacturer of rope, it seems. A cringingly telling story – in the ludicrously named lounge bar in a Railway Hotel – in the seedy genius loci of an Irish backwater – watched by an old woman at the bar and later with co-conspirators in their straitened, but upright lives – an old woman who makes judgements on Beatrice and the man with whom she was with – such goings-on in Catholic Ireland would once have been uncountenanced – Beatrice and the man who had once slipped a rope over their own necks for something that is now become a tawdry ritual. Indeed life gives modern folk enough rope, in fact too much rope. To spoil the rest of their lives for what they thought they once wanted. Paradise lost.
“In the kitchen Cicily was preparing their supper, cold ham and salad, and a vegetable soup to cheer it up.”
The marriage of Cicily and Cosmo, carried a shadowy third a la Elizabeth Bowen, (or even a hidden Sapphic relationship?) — Cicily and Mags her lifetime friend from school onward, a not so pretty Mags patronised by dressshop assistants and who had a scar from a husband who had left her… Mags somehow lived with the unMags marriage of Cosmo and Cicily, giving treats to their two children, a family friend with her own bedroom in the house whose funeral is full of stories and nostalgia about her. The marriage with Cicily and Cosmo consumed, though, in hindsight. At least in hindsight, as he opens, after Mags’ death, a new scar, one in his own marriage. Typical treasurable Trevor storifying as the hindsight of happiness as tawdriness, that can only be cheered up by things like vegetable soup? Any ‘eager breasts’, notwithstanding. Mags ammunition magazine as a retrocausal fuse.
“Elsewhere Shipham’s paste was being promoted.”
THE NEWS FROM IRELAND
“Hungry people do not eat their babies.”
“A confusion ran wildly in my head, a jumble without a pattern, all sense befogged. In a civilized manner nobody protested at the cacophony in the drawing-room when the piano was played, and nobody spoke to me of the stigmata because the subject was too terrible for conversation.”
We pry into reading the English Governess’s diary along with Fogarty the Protestant servant, one of two such siblings, in the Irish estate house which the Pulvertafts of Ipswich have inherited and taken its wildness and fruit from the reach of the potato famine peasants. This major historical novella is its own Modest Proposal, I guess, and Swift is even disarmingly mentioned at one point in its text. Trevor is ever Modest and Stoical, as is the Governess here, shocked by a pair of the peasants wounding and faking Christ’s stigmata on their child’s hands and feet for miracle money from Rome. Plain and clumsy Adelaide Pulvertaft is the spoilt child with a piano’s cacophony in a drawing-room, and other members of the family’s children have ambitions that ignores the hunger of others. Florence, Venice … a boy’s future military career. We learn about these children and their futures. But I wonder if the Governess’s final diary entry was also read by Fogarty where it describes how she discovered he had been reading them? But Modest and Stoical, like history itself, she stays in the area and marries one-armed Erskine who ran the workers in the wage-giving of road-making on the Pulvertaft estate. A road to some sort of half-hearted Heaven? With a tree growing as if from Adam’s ear into the very cross that once bore our saviour? But like today’s fake news and religion’s fashioned beliefs : “Fraud is grist to their mill.”
THE WEDDING IN THE GARDEN
“There was the porter at the auction rooms who had something the matter with his feet, the toes joined together in such a peculiar way that he showed them to people.”
…one of Dervla’s strange suitors!
Meanwhile, Dervla works as a maid at the hotel where young, Christopher, the son of the family owning the hotel, and Dervla canoodle and talk about fondness for each other in Room 14, a room that will carry these events like a shadow for ever more, and she is later warned off him by his parents – her being a mere maid and on a different side in Ireland’s religion. She is allowed to stay on, but only if she finishes the affair so that he can still inherit the hotel. The repercussions of this and Christopher’s final wedding to an Archdeacon’s daughter in the hotel garden are redolent of onward resonance, and her staying there as maid, stoically and defiantly unmarried, as if this is some further shadow upon him. The interactions are nuanced and make you think long and hard about this story after the book is shut. Their fate somehow sealed, even if the story itself is unsealed forever in the reader’s mind.
THE PROPERTY OF COLETTE NERVI
“…yellow-backed books of the Wild West Library, which were closely printed on absorbent paper, perpendicular line down the centre of each page, separating the prose as in a newspaper.”
The line divides these Catholic people from the foreign Tourists of the standing stones nearby in this Irish wayback site. Dolores, with crippled leg, and her Wild West books and cigarettes, and proclivity to be excited so much with the derringer-do plots that helped heal her inability to go to the local cinema, except on one rare occasion, and you could not credit there might be a happy ending with a crippled bride and petty gambler Henry in church. A marriage of convenience? Pity that the embracing French tourist couple had their belongings rifled! Ownership transferred along with a steady state happiness for Dolores that was never really happy, but happy ENOUGH, I guess. Another example of Trevorish instinctive stoicism again. No real guilt or shame felt by anyone. You can forgive naive people like these anything, anything except Christian sin. But, even so, with Confession, nothing is permanently culpable. From here to eternity. But a line surely needs to be drawn somewhere.
HER MOTHER’S DAUGHTER
“Nympholepsy. Disembogue. Graphotype. Imagist. Macle. Rambunctious. […] Toad-in-the-hole, cabinet pudding, plaice and chips, French onion soup, trifle, jelly surprise.”
Counterintuitively, perhaps, this may be my favourite story so far. Well, today, it is. The story of Helena and her mother, and Mrs Archingford next door one way, and a bickering old couple the other way, the latter with a disheveled son visiting with bird cages. You will have to read about Mrs Archingford for yourself, someone deserving of a story of her own. She certainly took a liking to Helena’s school friend with wide fat thighs, Judy Smeeth, addressed at one point as ‘Hey! Judy…” Helena’s Mother disapproved of ‘unsuitable’ Judy as a friend of her daughter. Meanwhile, Helena’s father had been working endlessly on a lexicography project (reminding me a bit of Woolf’s Mr Ramsay who could never get past Q when reciting the alphabet)… and her mother endlessly tries to complete his project after his death, so he wouldn’t be forgotten. She, too, never finishes it as she wilts away, with Helena having left home to cook for hundreds in a works canteen, a job she took on so as to spite her mother, as they were too alike to get on together. Haunted by the ghosts of playing children. Can ghosts exist if the people of whom they are the ghosts never existed in the first place? William Trevor often makes me ask questions that seem irrelevant to the story. Part of the sad beauty of it all. As a reader I feel as if I am sent to a boarding school for readers rather than to stay at home with the books I need to read.
“: the duck with the quivering bill, the kangaroos, the giraffes, the little red steam engines, the donkeys and carts, the bricks, the elephants, the fox-terriers on wheels, and all the others.”
Not to mention more “scrambled egg”!
The charmingly acceptable acceptances of older age with a stoicism tapped optimally, being the story of the Irish Catholic Mrs O’Neill at age 59, now widowed in stylish Arcangelo House that she and her late husband had built to reflect the hotel in Italy where they spent holidays… Their son who is into the coal and turf business, with what she deems an unsuitable wife. He wants to close down the family toy factory now the father is dead to make more room for the coal and turf. Instead, Mrs O’Neill remarries, the new husband being Protestant Mr Agnew who helped manage the toys and they plan to have an apple orchard instead, much to the son’s chagrin. Anyway, to cut a long telling story short, both Mrs O’Neill and Basil Agnew have bodily secrets that come to suit them both. And each other. She has — beware spoilers — qualms about her own fleshy spoilers of unsightliness and perhaps a spent libido, and I sense he sort of plays for the other side. Why he sometimes went off to Dublin for dirty weekends, or at least that was what I infer.
TWO MORE GALLANTS
“He spoke knowledgeably of the stale smell of incense, like foul flowerwater; and of flushed eaves and stubble geese.”
A cruel prank as revenge by an over-mature student for the James Joyce specialist Professor Flacks’ quip, “I see you are still with us?” This student gets a maid to spin a story about having had James Joyce base one of his characters on her, a story told amid fig rolls and about an ancient Dublin dentist. Flacks later repeats this story as one of his facts at a Joyce symposium… leading to his utter disgrace and eventual suicide. You have to laugh.
This is Trevor’s “cobweb of human frailty” at its optimum. And, by the way, did you know that Joyce suffered from recurrent iritis in his left eye, and, as his reincarnation, so do I?
“‘Meat and women,’ the butcher had a way of saying, ‘won’t take squeezing.’”
This, as I have said before in the long series of my reviews of all Trevor’s stories, is possibly my favourite so far! It has every ingredient in Trevor’s Trove pitch perfect. So sad, so something, so much with pangs and stoicisms. Laura meets Margaretta, as ageing ladies, as tourists near the cathedral of Siena, and those who have been there, unlike me, may know why that venue is so pitch perfect for their backstory. This story IS that backstory, from when they first met in Ireland as nine year olds in 1941, L having been sent to stay there with M because of ‘the war’, or as the Irish aptly (aptly, for them) called it, the ‘emergency’…the place of community in Ireland is a pitch perfect venue, too, with its various shops and characters forming a gestalt as genius loci. And its cinema and the films they watched.
L visited M there on other occasions after the war, and they both fell in friendship with each other and both in love with an invalid boy / man who is three years older than themselves, and he either loved them both or played one against the other. That is too simple, though. The situation is far more emotionally complex for me to set out here. But this triangle rang on for decades. But in Siena it had more or less already foundered as a friendship. And an invalid (in-valid) love too. Invalids often die prematurely.
“How could a man, every day, have one day’s stubble?”
M once had an uncle who spanked her gratuitously and secretly on her sixth birthday. The story never mentioned this before till it told you now. And Hitler was a ‘knut’. And the invalid read Thomas Mann. I wonder if he read The Magic Mountain? Tourists as strangers among strangers. Gaunt dormitories as an assembly hall that had once been a ballroom. “; she was certain he had almost kissed her.” Another secret to keep till today?
“Had two girls’ longing simply been more fun than one’s?”
“It was me he wrote to.”
“a waspish cathedral to reflect a waspish triumph.”
A love that had been a ghost’s sleight of hand. This story is now another ghost’s sleight of hand. A perfect trick of fiction.
I have quoted that in full as this, so far, is Trevor’s most important story, if not my favourite. It has a bearing on music Aesthetics as part of life, a strange man called Justin Condon who his parents wants to widen out into having girl friends, even that dentist called Thomasina Durcan. Justin who sells women’s underwear to drapers and loves Mahler, and also yearns some identity with James Joyce and Paul Gauguin, the latter with all his dark maidens. This is a textured, resisting story that I thus did not fully understand. Yet I sense illicit sex when he was a boy being taught the piano by Father Finn, and an Aunt, who first ignited music in his heart, turning a blind eye to that, almost as if this story itself turns a blind eye to that??? And the guilt of his parents is explicitly expressed.
“‘It’s a sign of the advance the country has made,’ continued Garda Bevan, ‘the way the bacon is better these days.’”
EVENTS AT DRIMAGHLEEN
“The breakfast was placed on the kitchen table because no good would come of not taking food. […] On the farm, discussion was rarely apt, there being no profit in it; it followed naturally that grounds for disagreement were limited.”
And indeed profit was eventually sought, whatever the cast expended otherwise. These “disadvantaged people” knew where their breakfast toast was buttered, I guess — people of the Irish bogland where farmtracks crossed. A mass shooting that reaches the newspapers also affects this community and only one version of the story behind the killings will suffice, the one that saves their own specially sainted one, the 25 year old daughter of a couple, the sole child left at home, a daughter who has an affair with a man at another farm whose mother is obsessively possessive of him… This whodunnit is brilliantly filtered through the newspaper cuttings of a well-characterised couple of journalists, man and woman, who advantaged the disadvantaged folk in exchange for THEIR ‘story’. Yet, is that the complete TREVOR story? ….an author donning the garb of literature’s Unreliable Narrator?!
I ask myself this and I wonder if the sainted. daughter’s mother screaming at the end betokens even yet one more possible solution to the whodunnit.
“The Irish do not easily forgive the purloining of their latter-day Saints.”
“It was the summer of 1946. Long, warm days cast an unobtrusive spell, one following another in what seemed like orderly obedience.”
I visit Hubert and his older extended family, a hot-headed young man whom I knew at school not long ago and we gossip about the absurdities of our contemporaries there, including the handkerchief business et al. Hubert’s family is somewhat absurd, too, with dead members almost still there, and old recriminations still rife, and a pretty cousin called Pamela visiting whom I think I then grew to fancy. Hubert and I went to the pictures, the horse races (did we have a bet on Gay Girl, I can’t remember now) and we tried to teach Pamela how three could play together (at tennis)…and much else. It is a story that ends with more of a ‘dying fall’ than a bathos, and Hubert has now gone out of my life, as this story will also vanish when my memory fades in old age. But it will probably be one of last stories TO vanish. Not forgetting, of course, the honeycomb, the rakish Hanrahan, the corned beef salad, the Frank Sinatra songs, the ‘moon and sixpence’ cinema film as some snogged in the back row, the cultivation of groundnuts in Africa, a gimlet of gin and lime, and the road accident involving escaped apes when both Hubert’s parents died so tragically, and so dream-absurdly…
“I don’t understand why that should be,…”
THE THIRD PARTY
“She has a way of quarrelling when she was doing her nails, because she found the task irksome and needed some distraction.”
One man meets another man in a bar, one of them heavily drinking, the other not, having met in a business-like way to deal with one man’s wife with the irksome nails being taken over by the other man. They turn out to have been at school together, the one stealing the other one’s wife having been the bullied one at school, his head dunked in the lavatory. Well to cut a long, entertaining, brilliantly characterised, wryly sad story short, the drunker one says more about the home truths regarding his wife (soon to be the other’s wife, following a difficult Irish divorce to be transferred to England for ease of logistics), telling so much more than he intended to tell that it all turns out to be pretty counterproductive! Or was it a counterintuitive way masochistically to keep his wife? We perhaps shall never know. We just leave him eating cod, parsley sauce, cabbage and potatoes, speculating stoically on how marriages ever wither away in Ireland, rot and die like cancer. Luckily no issue in his case. Issue in more than one sense.
HONEYMOON IN TRAMORE
“, but the sin when she’d handed Mr Minogue the money had been like something alive in the room with them.”
Life is a balancing act of risk, impetus, balance and confidence, such as the motorbikes on the Wall of Death and walking one’s path through life alongside today’s Covid-19… Here, in Ireland, somewhat simple-minded, a man, once an orphan, and a woman whom he rescues from her backstory by marriage, a path, on his part, of lust and, perhaps, love. Now here on honeymoon, with that lust to be assuaged clumsily — having balanced the mixed, often absurdist, repercussions of black pudding for breakfast, thoughts of illegal abortion of another man’s baby, a kiss through the grittiness of biscuit crumbs, the equivocations of religion (“that he fecked a crucifix off a nun”), her vomiting from too many bottles of stout and talk of putting animals in cement mixers. Her three brothers all died in childhood. And his surname meant burial mound. The stoicism of existence then and there, in that time and place, can only be expressed thus by a Trevor, amid hopes and despairs, and the slippery optimum of them all.
IN LOVE WITH ARIADNE
“Scholars were recognized by their earnest eyes, sizars by their poverty. Nigerians didn’t mix.”
Barney starts off in his backstory, back home in the house where his Doctor father worked with a waiting room for patients, no doubt having people of all sizes undress for him. War in the wings and nightly blackouts. Barney decides to become a doctor, too … and we rejoin him in Dublin at medical school, amid womanising male students… He ends up at digs so evocative of the times, with wirelesses and wireless salesmen, Pye et al, and rooms above to plot the course or cause of footsteps. He falls in love with the landlady’s daughter, and visualises taking her round his father’s house and the locale outside. He walks her to the convent, and we receive a powerful message, one that only Trevor can deliver. And a striking scene of an emptied room where the footsteps had been, and I was shocked Barney did not see two heads on the pillow of the bed, rather than none. A false expectation that works perfectly alongside Ariadne’s own backstory now come to echo something earlier I can’t quite remember, nor link to meaningfully.
A HUSBAND’S RETURN
“Sawdust had come out of the doll because the dog’s tooth had pierced one of its legs. Margy it had been called.”
Margy, short for Maura Brigid? No, that doll was more symbolic, I guess, of her sister Bernadette’s lethally botched abortion, a baby belonging the ‘dog’ who had given it her? No it was not that ‘dog’s baby — because Maura Brigid, who had married that Lawless ‘dog’ before he ran off with the ‘hooer’ of her sister Bernadette, found out later another man had given it to Bernadette, and so Bernadette had betrayed the ‘dog’, too! Or this simple Irish family (two sisters and mother) with such bitter twists of fate had had their fate concocted by a senile old man who lived with them for no obvious reason other than to concoct such a fate around them. William Trevor’s representative witness within the story itself. Not senile or unreliable at all! Just a fantasist storyteller. My theory about this story. Or this story’s theory about me, as I near the end of my gestalt real-time review of all his many stories….
“That was true, Desmond was good.”
…the start of a paragraph that takes on poignant proportions, when we learn of his wife’s memories of an August Saturday in 1972, when ‘their’ daughter was not yet born….But, alongside these memories — as the unexpectedly visiting man who is the centre of such memories returns to the Tennis Club community for a family funeral — is indeed Trevor’s striking portrait of that very Tennis Club, the middle class couples who meet their for regular dinner parties, their gossip, rivalries, and discussions of, say, their own children’s prospects of marriage…and eventually the story is an oblique lesson in having regrets or not having regrets. A telling tale that is still full of afterthoughts by the thoughtful readers, even with the story already in the reading bank.
CHILDREN OF THE HEADMASTER
“Spencer II puked in the dorm, first night of term. All the mint chocs he brought back and something that looked like turnips. Mange-coloured.”
Many of the typical frailties brought together by Trevor from among his stories, here on the brink of collapse or of submission to such frailties’ temptations, indeed often, in these stories, fulfilled as collapse or submission, but equally often not. That is the story of all the stories. The soil-stained tears of a woman or wife, too.
Here the attempted ‘Chinese Wall’ in a large house by the seaside, one half a boys’ boarding school, the other being the Private Side where the headmaster and his family lived. A family with growing daughters who attend a day school in the area and sons who are strictly divided between the boarding school in term time and the Private Side during holidays. Yet things seep through that Wall and, like all filters, such seeping can work in both directions of flow. So much else to tell you about this wonderful story, but, as it says itself, lids must be kept on chatterboxes.
Frailties of reviewers. Frailties of teachers, too.
“Haven’t you a daughter not long left the nuns?”
Only Imagine, the Kathleen Stock of Sorrow. Possibly the most attritional of all the stories in Trevor’s Trove of stories, the story they all tell as gestalt, but to the Nth degree of mange-coloured. Our real-time apotheosised. Only Connect, too.
This is where basic Irish business transactions transpire, like a field to be bought, a maid’s position to be filled, a mortgage to be obtained, and blind eyes turned against what might otherwise be going on to ease their traction. Kathleen, buxom for her tender age, leaves the lino of the convent for the carpet of the house where she’ll work as maid, her father having arranged it as part of a skein of such transactions. Her own siblings at home have departed because they cannot be maintained. Love exists in this family, but love is often by-passed, and we readers can hardly bear watching Kathleen’s servitude, including the dour son in the house, and the woman of the house of whom Kathleen dreams as “laughing, her chin going long and smooth and her large white teeth moving in her mouth.” And the name of the man of the house — who creepily comes close to Kathleen when they are alone together and obviously wants to sow his stock in her field — happens to be Des.
“Haven’t they brains like turnips?”