Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

William Trevor, RIP

Nov 23, 2016

One of the more unpleasant aspects of getting older is that one keeps losing friends, and culture heroes, along the way.

November has been particularly sad in that regard as two of my favourite artists, Leonard Cohen and William Trevor, passed on. Cohen I'm sure you know about but unless you are a writer, or a reader, of short fiction you may not be familiar with Trevor's work. If that is the case, I urge you to rectify the situation immediately. 

Trevor is known in particular for his short stories but I prefer his novels, one of which I talked about in Geist magazine a few years ago. As a small memorial, here is that short article.

"My local library has introduced a program called Speed Reads. In the interests of increasing the circulation of the most popular books, a patron may borrow a best-seller for just a week, and very steep fines are imposed for late returns. Under these onerous conditions, I took out a copy of The Story of Lucy Gault, a novel by the Irish writer William Trevor (Knopf). The story begins in Ireland in the 1920s, when the owner of a country house takes a potshot at a group of would-be arsonists, wounding one of them in the shoulder. The rest of the novel describes the impact of this small event on the lives of the main characters, including the eponymous heroine, who is a young girl when the shot is fired. The details of the story are slightly far-fetched, but it is told in sentences of such beauty that it doesn’t really matter. Trevor’s early novels are hilarious comedies. More recent novels, like Felicia’s Journey (which Atom Egoyan turned into a movie) and Death in Summer, are suffused with an atmosphere of creepy menace. Lucy Gault contains neither menace nor humour; instead, it overflows with tenderness and sorrow. I read the last part of it while sitting in my car in a ferry lineup, on my way back to town to meet the library due date, and as I finished the book I discovered tears running down my cheeks. What, I wondered, would other motorists think of this solitary man sitting behind his steering wheel bawling? Would they think that someone close to him had died, or that he had lost his dog? Or would they guess that he had just finished one of the saddest books he had ever read?"

As well, you can find Trevor's interview with the Paris Review here.