Posts Tagged ‘William Trevor’

My first read for #readingIrelandmonth21 was William Trevor’s 1976 novel The Children of Dynmouth – one of those impulse buys based on noting but the author’s name. It is a novel about which I might be in danger of running out of superlatives – or perhaps using too many. With the sheer brilliance of the writing and Trevor’s characterisation it is easy to see why it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize that year – losing out to Saville by David Storey. Though it did win the Whitbread book of the year award.

This novel is not set in Ireland – not all Trevor’s books are – but in the fictional Dorset seaside town of Dynmouth. Trevor is a master at creating that sense of place that becomes almost filmic – every single one of his characters feel right at home there – they fit perfectly.

At the heart of this novel is Timothy Gedge, a lonely, overly curious fifteen year old boy. He is one of the most horrible teenage creations (other than Pinkie Brown) I have come across. Timothy isn’t a violent sociopath – though one wonders what he could become – and yet there is a malevolence about him that is almost as frightening. Excluded from his mother and older sister’s orbit, he is left to fend for himself.

“In adolescence, unfortunately, the boy was increasingly becoming a nuisance to people, endlessly friendly and smiling, keen for conversation. He was what Lavinia called a latch-key child, returning to the empty flat in Cornerways from the Comprehensive school, on his own in it all day during the school holidays. Being on his own seemed somehow to have become part of him.”

Friendless, and with too much time on his hands, Timothy Gedge walks the streets of Dynmouth watching and listening. For Timothy Gedge is a pest. He turns up unwanted on people’s doorsteps – the kind of people too polite to tell him where to go – does little odd jobs to get into their homes, he becomes over familiar and stays too long. He asks impertinent questions or makes awkward observations, all the time smiling obsequiously and calling all the men sir. He knows what everyone is up to, he has come across secrets – secrets that have the power to disrupt and distress the very ordinary people of this small coastal town.

The Easter talent show is approaching and Timothy Gedge has come up with an act – which he considers brilliant. He can’t wait for everyone to see it – and he intends to make darn sure he can get everything he needs for his big moment. His head is full of his big break – convincing himself that Hughie Green will come to Dynmouth for the golf and wander into the talent show and there’ll he’ll be, Timothy Gedge on Opportunity Knocks. He is so sure of his success he can see it – he just needs to persuade certain local grown ups to help him with his props and costumes. Only it isn’t just the grown ups who come in for the attention of Timothy Gedge.

“The children of Dynmouth were as children anywhere. They led double lives; more regularly than their elders they travelled without moving from a room. They saw a different world: the sun looked different to them, and so did Dynmouth’s trees and grass and sand. Dogs loomed at a different level, eye to eye. Cats arched their tiger’s backs, and the birds behind bars in Moult’s Hardware and Pet Supplies gazed beadily down, appearing to speak messages. Pairs of Loretto nuns, airing themselves on the promenade, gazed down also, blackly nodding, a crucified body dangling among their black beards. Ring’s Amusements were Dynmouth’s Paradise.” 

Mr Featherstone the vicar is already sick of Timothy turning up to the funerals of people he doesn’t know. Now Timothy is bothering him about the talent show – and will insist on calling him Mr Feather. His wife Lavinia runs one of the nursery schools in Dynmouth, and the couple have their own pair of mischievous twin daughters. Lavinia has noticed how Timothy can make the four year olds scream with laughter – but there is definitely something about it she doesn’t like.

Commander and Mrs Abigail have been allowing Timothy to do jobs for them, to earn pocket money. Having become a regular at the house Timothy begins to get just a little too comfortable – making the Commander and his wife distinctly uncomfortable. The Dasses are a couple who come in for similar treatment, as does the man his mother has been sneaking into the house at night. They all begin to dread seeing Timothy Gedge approach their homes.

Meanwhile Stephen and Kate Fleming return to Dynmouth by train from school. They are both twelve years old. Not twins, they are new step siblings though they had been friends before that – and now are suddenly brother and sister. Kate’s mother (divorced) has married Stephen’s father (widowed) – and they will be returning from honeymoon in a few days. In the meantime, they will be looked after by Mr and Mrs Blakley at Sea House where this new blended family will live. Soon after their arrival at Sea House Kate and Stephen run into Timothy Gedge – he follows them to the pictures and talks to them as they walk home. Timothy easily shatters their little world, rocks their confidence, and drives a wedge between the pair. Stephen retreats from everyone in horror struck silence, while Kate struggles to help him while maintaining his confidentiality.

Timothy Gedge’s power to disrupt is brilliantly portrayed – I do rather love a monstrous character and Timothy Gedge made my blood boil. Yet it is William Trevor’s observational genius that is so spot on, his subtlety in slowly ratcheting up the tension around Timothy, that you have to constantly remind yourself that this is a child you are reading about. This is definitely my favourite William Trevor novel of those I have read.

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mrs eckdorf at oneills

When William Trevor died in 2016 I was reminded that I really hadn’t read enough of his novels. On a trip to Waterstone’s a few months ago I noticed a range of William Trevor novels from penguin – I liked the simple black and white images on the covers – but it was the title Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel that really spoke to me. Novels set in hotels are great. The truth is I should have liked this novel more than I did (I didn’t hate it or anything – I just didn’t love it and felt I should have). Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel was short-listed for the 1970 Booker prize – and despite feeling distinctly underwhelmed I have to admit that something of the mood of the novel has really stayed with me. There is a lot to admire in this beautifully written novel – so perhaps I was simply in the wrong frame of mind.

We first meet the annoyingly intrusive Mrs Eckdorf on board a plane on her way to Dublin from Germany, as she recounts her life story to the man in the seat next to her. A twice married, middle-aged photographer, Ivy Eckdorf is a producer of large coffee table books – in which she has explored the desperate lives of communities in a variety of locations around the world. She had heard about O’Neill’s Hotel in Dublin from a barman – he had described the inhabitants, the hotel’s faded glories, and it had fired her imagination.

“In the pillared hall of the hotel, with its balding maroon carpet that extended up the stairs, eight chairs echoed a grandeur that once had been. They were tall, like thrones, their gilt so faded and worn that it looked in places like old yellow paint, their once-elegant velvet stained with droppings from glasses of alcohol. Behind the row of chairs prone on the carpet lay a man into whose rump O’Shea’s boot was now driven with force. His eyes watched as the shrimpish form of his enemy Morrissey moved swiftly, without speech, across the hall and out of the hotel. O’Shea continued on his way to the kitchen, his greyhound loping behind him. Agnes Quinn and her companion came down the stairs. Early morning in this house wasn’t ever much different.”

O’Neill’s hotel has certainly seen better days, owned by 91-year-old Mrs Sinnott, a collector of orphans, a deaf-mute woman who prefers to communicate with the aid of a notebook. Everyone speaks to Mrs Sinnott through her notebooks, the notebooks piled up on a table near the chair she sits in by the window. Every conversation is recorded, all that the people in her life can’t or won’t say out loud is written down. Now the hotel is home to a collection of misfits and degenerates – ‘run’ after a fashion by Mrs Sinnott’s drunken, gambling son Eugene – a dreamer, allowing the hotel to slip further into ruin and disgrace.

Mrs Eckdorf turns up, she has already begun to tell herself the story of this hotel. O’Neill’s is not used to receiving ordinary customers, so Mrs Eckdorf turning up and asking for her luggage to be collected from another hotel so she can stay – causes some mild surprise. There is O’Shea, the porter followed everywhere by his greyhound, trying his best to hold it altogether, Morrissey a pimp who hires rooms at the hotel for his girls and Agnes Quinn one of the prostitutes who once longed to be a nun.

In other parts of the city we meet Enid Gregan; Mrs Sinnott’s downtrodden unloved daughter and Philomena; Eugene’s former wife and their son Timothy John. Mrs Eckdorff tracks down these people too – not content with the inhabitant of merely the hotel – she senses a story – and she is keen to find it. Enid’s husband has managed to leach every bit of potential joy from Enid’s life. An insurance man, trying his best never to have to pay a claim he is currently most interested in the growing of his tomatoes, seeing great potential in them.

“He had bought a small plot of ground a few miles from where they lived and he had just erected on it two glass-houses in which he proposed to cultivate tomatoes for profit. He had come back one evening and asked her if she’d ever noticed tomatoes in the shops. ‘A full chip when you go by in the morning,’ he’d said, ‘and an empty one when you come home at night.’ The plot of land had been paid for out of capital left to her by her father, as had the shed he had built in the garden and the concreting in the yard. Earlier in her marriage to Mr Gregan she had once or twice protested at his way of appropriating her money, but he had pointed out that it was essential to invest money in a sensible manner rather than to purchase clothes with it, or household luxuries that would wear out quickly. He had a way of speaking about such matters over a period of several weeks, making his point after tea every evening when they sat down by the fire.”

Timothy John works for Mr Gregan, it is interesting work but he is hasn’t quite Mr Gregan’s ability of quickly dispensing with insurance claims with a few well-chosen barbs. currently Timothy John’s biggest concerns involve a bad molar – and the necessary resulting trip to the dentist, and talking once more to Daisy Tulip.

“She was beautiful, he had thought, and ever since he had been thinking the same. The work he did, the people he saw, his uncle’s reproaches and his mother’s little face made little sense now when he thought about her. There was a passion in him that made even his fear of speaking to her again seem strangely slight. Her name is Daisy Tulip, he had written. He laughed to think of it, a name like that, a made-up name that suited her.”

Back at O’Neill’s as preparations for Mrs Sinnott’s 92nd birthday get underway, we begin to see Mrs Eckdorf’s own unravelling. What is it that turned a once plush hotel into a house of ill-repute? Ivy Eckdorf is determined to get at the story – she worms her way into the lives of these sadly bemused people. In unravelling the secrets of O’Neill’s, Mrs Eckdorf shows us her own vulnerabilities.

William Trevor’s writing is beautiful, Trevor’s characters are explored so well – the communities depicted are faithfully drawn and yet I didn’t always feel a connection between them.

william trevor

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William Trevor – birthday May 24th

“Nothing happened in Rathmoye, its people said, but most of them went on living there. It was the young who left—for Dublin or Cork or Limerick, for England, sometimes for America. A lot came back. That nothing happened was an exaggeration…

‘Love and Summer’ is a quiet novel set in 1950’s rural Ireland, in which – some reviewers say – nothing much happens. I wouldn’t necessarily agree that nothing happens, in these small, sad disappointed lives – little things loom large.

When photographer Florian Kilderry is first spotted in Rathmoye taking photographs of Mrs Connulty’s funeral, Ellie Dillahan notices him as she cycles home. Miss Connulty now freed from her mother’s tyranny also notices him, and when Florian starts taking pictures at the burnt out cinema he is noticed by others too. An orphan, brought up by nuns in an institution, Ellie later married the farmer who she had been sent out to keep house for. Her husband is a good man, kindly and hardworking, but haunted by the death of his first wife and their child in a terrible accident for which he blames himself.
Florian Kilderry; alone, but for his childhood pet, since his parent’s deaths – is living in the family home, which he can no longer afford to keep up. Nursing a secret passion for his cousin Isabella, he is awaiting the sale of the house, after which he plans to leave Ireland. Living on a remote farm, going into town just once a week, Ellie is also alone. The attachment that develops between Florian and Ellie that summer is reckless and unwise, and rather one sided. For Ellie, Florian offers a whole world of other possibilities. This is a love story that the reader feels cannot end well. Watching from behind the windows of the boarding house that she is now able to run the way she wants to is Miss Connulty who knows only too well the perils of a love affair. Orpen Wren – a shambling confused old man, lives mainly in the past but also notices things that are happening around him.

“The more he asked about her childhood at Cloonhill the more Ellie loved her interrogator. No matter how strange he still sometimes seemed, she felt as if all her life she had known him. The past he talked about himself became another part of her: The games he had played alone, the untidy rooms of the house he described, the parties given, the pictures painted. Being with him in the woods at Lyre, where the air was cold and the trees imposed a gloomy darkness, or walking among the monks’ graves, or being with him anywhere, telling or listening, was for Ellie more than friendship, or living, had ever been before.”

Several of the characters in this beautifully subtle novel are isolated and haunted by the past. There is a slightly suffocating atmosphere in the small town of Rathmoye – where in a sense Ellie and Florian are both outsiders. There is a touching elegiac quality to this story of an illicit summer long romance. William Trevor’s sense of time and place is sublime – summer in rural Ireland, a small town and an isolated farm and a dilapidated house. Beautifully written, with real poignancy ‘Love and Summer’ has only served to remind me how I have not read enough novels by this excellent writer.

william trevor

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