The Reading Room

Remembering William Trevor

The art of the short-story…

wtThe death of William Trevor last month saw the passing of a gentle giant in the world of short-story writing. Four time Booker prize nominated, he was justifiably awarded an honorary knighthood for his services to literature. Anyone who has read his work cannot have helped to be struck by his writing and his ability to convey so much in such a short space.

Whenever I read William Trevor I am reminded of what makes a great writer, he mastered the art of observation in everyday life, captured the fragilities of life, love and friendships. Last week I read Sitting With the Dead, a remarkable account of a woman coming to terms with the death of her husband in the company of two church-going sisters who made it their business to visit the families of those recently deceased regardless of connection (or not)to themselves.

As the story ends so we learn in the most subtle of nuances the reality of life with a man who controlled her in the most antiquated of ways to the extent that for her, it became the norm. Now, with the realisation she was free of such a repressive relationship we are left wondering if she will cope with her new found ‘freedom’ or if it is too late to save her from not only him but herself. As the dead body lays upstairs, the sisters drink tea and sit quietly as the wife begins to slowly open up about him and his ways. With the story drawing to an end, Trevor captures the feeling of loneliness once the initial concerns and curiosities have subsided and of those who sit in judgement of the lives of others such as in the way the sisters talk having left the widow alone in the kitchen. Driving down the farm track, one remarked to the other “I’d say myself, it was the dead we were sat with” Ironically, she was probably right.

A quiet, unassuming Irishman who led a peaceful life in Devon, Trevor also wrote a number of novels but for a taste of Trevor at his best reach for a collection of his short stories. Do not expect high-brow excitement or devilish plots and twists but rather be ready for a lesson in people watching and how so many of his stories can relate to one’s own experiences. His brilliance came not just in what he put in but also in what he left out.

A great man, gentle and humble who left a fine legacy and a reminder of gentler days.

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