The Irish short-story writer and novelist William Trevor died last November. He was 88. His readers say he is one of the best writers ever, and with titles like How We Got Drunk on Cake, how can we resist giving him a place on our reading list?
I was introduced to Trevor fairly recently by our own Kevin Wright, and I loved his work right away. I had encountered Trevor’s work before, in The New Yorker, but reading a whole book of short stories makes a big difference. You really get to see the depth of his characterizations.
I’d like to share an excerpt with you. It’s from The Women and it appeared in The New Yorker, January, 2013.
Growing up in the listless nineteen-eighties, Cecilia Normanton knew her father well, her mother not at all. Mr. Normanton was handsome and tall, with steely gray hair brushed carefully every day so that it was as he wished it to be. His shirts and suits gave the impression of being part of him, as his house in Buckingham Street did, and the family business that bore his name. Only Mr. Normanton’s profound melancholy was entirely his own. It was said by people who knew him well that melancholy had not always been his governing possession, that once upon a time he had been carefree and a little wild, that the loss of his wife — not to the cruelty of an early death but to her preference for another man — had left him wounded in a way that was irreparable.
I also read in The New Yorker that in a 1975 review of Trevor’s short-story collection Angels at the Ritz, the novelist Graham Greene remarked that it was “one of the best collections, if not the best since James Joyce’s Dubliners.”
Trevor has often been compared to James Joyce. Like Joyce, Trevor’s stories are timeless because they give us very little hint of when they were written. And although they take place in the present, they harken back to memories of the past. That is how he builds a complex portrait of his characters in the precise and detailed prose his readers love so much.
Have a listen as Jhumpa Lahiri reads “A Day”.
Or read Trevor’s obituary in The New York Times.
I recommend that you look William Trevor up the next time you’re at the library. You never know when you’ll find an author who really speaks to you.