Posts Tagged ‘William Trevor’

Popping up with a longish post, proof I am still around. It’s been nearly a fortnight since my last post as again I have been hit hard by RA symptoms and crippling fatigue. This is clearly going to happen a lot, so I suppose my blog posting will continue erratically at least for now.  

I began January joyfully reading at quite a decent pace, however that has slowed down now, as I have been sleeping so much, and watching loads of TV. I had wanted to join in several of the reading challenges that are around in January, and started reading Heaven for the Japanese reading challenge as the New Year came in. So far, that is the only book I have reviewed from this month’s reading.  

Following that I sat down with The Old Boys by William Trevor for Cathy and Kim’s year of William Trevor. A marvellous novel full of excellent characterisation and sharp observation. I had hoped to move on to Cheating at Canasta, the short stories that are selected for this month too, but I haven’t even managed to buy a copy yet much less read it. (I might cheat and read it in February, as I have read both of February’s William Trevor titles before).  

I then moved back to Japan with Yūko Tsushima’s Woman Running in the Mountains – a pricey NYRB edition I bought with book tokens just after Christmas. Having so loved Territory of Light back in November I was really looking forward to this, and I wasn’t disappointed, so glad I treated myself to that particularly nice edition too.  

So, in a bid to catch up a little, forgive me for these mini reviews of two novels that are not only quite different to one another, but really deserve proper full-length pieces.  

The Old Boys – William Trevor (1964) 

The old boys of the title are a bunch of septuagenarians who were once, public schoolboys together, and now make up the Old Boys Association. High on the agenda as the novel opens is the election of the new president. Jaraby is sure of his success, this is a position he has been waiting to take up, feeling it is his proper due. He has however not reckoned on the bitter resentment of Nox – who Jaraby was particularly awful to during their schooldays, but for Jaraby that is long past and forgotten. The rest of the wonderfully named old boys are General Sanctury, Ponders, Swabey-Boynes, Turtle and Sole and Cridley. The latter two having more recently taken up residence together in a boarding house, where they get up to all kinds of mischief sending off for catalogues and getting quotes for home improvements, they have no right to request. When Jaraby’s wayward son Basil gets arrested by the police, Nox immediately sees it as a way of upsetting Jaraby’s plans for his election. His memory of the past is clear and for him it isn’t over.  

“Jaraby, who was a stickler for detail and discipline, was determined that Nox should do what was required of him; quietly contentedly, and with the minimum of nonsense.” 

Jaraby is the main character here, one of Trevor’s brilliantly drawn, though not very likeable creations. The best scenes in the book I think are those between Jaraby and his wife. She, no doubt long suffering with this fussy, pompous old bully – who is currently trying to persuade his doctor that he needs help drugging his ‘mad’ wife, to keep her quiet – lovely man! However, the worm has turned, and she is quietly, but determinedly fighting back, and Jaraby can’t work out what’s wrong with her. Two things they fight about most is Jaraby’s cat and their son Basil – who Jaraby won’t have in the house.  

Warning cat lovers, there is a very bad thing with the cat – which Trevor manages to not make very upsetting however a lot of cat lovers would really dislike it.  

The Old Boys is an excellent novel with a lot going on beneath the surface, Basil for instance, is a brilliant creation – we only latterly realise what a disturbing character he is. Trevor is good at these kinds of sinister characters, and he slips them into his writing a lot and I have to say I find them fascinating.  

Woman Running in the Mountains – Yūko Tsushima (1980) 

Translated from the Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt

This is a beautifully written novel full of atmosphere, quiet, subtle and thoroughly engaging. It is the story of Takiko who as the novel opens on a hot, midsummer morning leaves her home, her family asleep and walks to the hospital by herself to give birth to her son. Her pregnancy is the result of a brief liaison with a married man she met through work and is a cause of great shame to her parents. She has no shame about her situation, for her it is perfectly natural, she is to become a mother, a fact she can hardly believe. She would rather not have to return to her parents’ house where her child is unwanted, but she will have no choice when the hospital discharges her. Takiko thinks this baby will be hers, just hers and she longs for independence and to be able to direct her own life fully. Takiko enjoys her time in the hospital, enjoying the company of the other new mums, however the time is short and soon she accepts she will have to go home with her mother to the house with her young brother and abusive father, where there is little space and no enthusiasm for a new baby. 

Takiko’s son is called Akira and the novel follows her first year of being a mother. From those first difficult days with a newborn, living in cramped conditions in the heat of summer coping with all the associated pain and difficultly of new motherhood – through to her accessing of childcare and finding work. A series of poorly paid, unsatisfying jobs, waitressing, door to door make up sales make life difficult for Takiko as she juggles that with paying for childcare. Then she sees an advertisement for a male employee at a nursery supplying plants to businesses – knowing she can do the job as well as a man she applies and gets the job.  

Work sees her exploring new things, new neighbourhoods and finding things she can do she had never dreamed of. It also brings her closer to the mountain that has captured her imagination. Her mother grew up in the mountains and Takiko carries the images and ideas of the mountains with her, part of her longing for freedom, for a different life. Takiko meets another older, married man at work, the father of a disabled child, they are drawn together by their parenthood and the mountain.  

I am so glad I finally discovered the writing of Yūko Tsushima I found this to be every bit as good as Territory of Light

So, two challenges ticked off and thoroughly enjoyed – I had intended to read another Japanese book, but I seem to be running out of time in one way and another. I have watched and absolutely loved Tokyo Vice on BBC iplayer though which seemed appropriate this month.  

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This post comes to you several days later than it should have done, I had intended to write it one day after work, but then the week exploded and that didn’t happen. Never mind, better late than never. This book picked up to read for #ReadingIreland month – and I think I have probably had it a while.

Fools of Fortune was William Trevor’s eleventh novel – he was a prolific writer of novels and stories, and I have many still to read. This is an extraordinarily beautiful novel; one the great Molly Keane called a moving and important book. It is told mainly in two first person narratives, spanning a period from just after the First World War to the 1980s. It is a beautiful, complex novel, haunting and tender and always compelling.

The novel opens with Willie growing up on the Irish, Kilneagh estate of the wealthy Quinton family in County Cork. Willie has two older sisters, and alongside his parents, two aunts also live with the family. His father is a mill owner, a protestant like his English wife, though they both have some sympathy with the republican cause. Michael Collins makes a visit to their home, and Willie is taught by Father Kilgarriff an unfrocked Catholic priest. They live a fairly perfect life; they are happy and successful. Everything changes however when the body of an informer is found on the Quintons land.

The Black and Tans, led by a particularly zealous sergeant sets fire to the Quinton home one night. It is an act of unbelievable savagery, from which only Willie and his mother escape (the aunts were away on holiday). The legacy of this dreadful crime just after the First World War will be felt for decades – feelings of trauma, loss and vengeance, not allowing the wounds of the past to ever properly heal.

“I was in Tim Paddy’s arms, and then there was the dampness of the grass before the pain began, all over my legs and back. The ponies and my mother’s horse snorted and neighed. I could hear their hooves banging at the stable doors.

There were stars in the sky. An orange glow crept over the edges of my vision. The noise there’d been had changed, becoming a kind of crackling, with crashes that sounded like thunder. I couldn’t move. I thought: We are all like this, Geraldine, Deirdre, my mother and father, Josephine and Mrs Flynn; we are all lying on the wet grass, in pain.”

Following the loss of his home, father, and sisters, as well as several servants, Willie and his mother move to a house in Cork. The aunts and Father Kilgarriff remain behind at Kilneagh, living in the Orchard Wing that was unaffected by the fire, Willie’s father’s clerk taking over as manager of the mill. With Willie and his mother, goes Josephine, the young maid who had only just come to the Quinton estate, and also survived the fire. Willie must begin attending a school in the city, his teacher Miss Halliwell feels a peculiar tenderness and pity for Willie, which Willie finds embarrassing, and is rather glad when it’s time for him to leave for boarding school.

Meanwhile Willie’s mother has been unable to recover from the trauma and shock of the night their house was set ablaze. Cared for faithfully by Josephine, she turns more and more to alcohol – until her addiction is all too obvious. She won’t permit the aunts back in Kilneagh to write to her, can’t tolerate the twice yearly visit from Mr Derenzy who manages the mill, and won’t even permit letters from her own parents in India. Willie has to write the letters for her. Willie’s mother is haunted by the image of the sergeant who led the Black and Tans, and who has now returned home to Liverpool to run a greengrocers.

“‘I’d like to see Kilneagh again’ Josephine had said, and came one Friday so that we might travel back together on the evening train. We walked together in the garden and the ruins, and in the kitchen of the orchard wing she was shy. She sat on the edge of a chair sipping at a cup of tea while Aunt Fitzeustace worriedly questioned her about my mother, and Aunt Pansy offered currant scones around. Father Kilgarriff said it was great to see her again. That day, for the first time, I noticed a tired look about him, as well as the thinness that hadn’t been there in the past. Mr Derenzy had told me he suffered sometimes from the bullet wounds in his chest.”

The second part of the novel is narrated by Marianne, Willie’s cousin from England. When the two meet they are inevitably drawn to one another, but there seems too much in the way. The love they find is very brief – Marianne leaves for a finishing school in Switzerland, where she has a horrible experience. She decides to return to Ireland to find Willie, and tell him she is having his child, but Willie has disappeared. 

Marianne decides to stay in Ireland and raise her daughter at Kilneagh – living in the Orchard Wing with Willie’s aunts, firm in her belief that one day he will return. The third part of the novel is told from the perspective of Imelda, Marianne and Willie’s daughter, another child growing up at Kilneagh, but one who grows up with a terrible legacy in the past. A legacy not even she, born years later can escape.

A novel of under two hundred pages, and yet the scope and the power of it really does belie its size. William Trevor’s writing is always so visual – leaving the reader with a myriad of images, as good as any film.

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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.

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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.

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