At a glance:
- Author: William Trevor Cox
- First Published: 1993
- Type of Work: Autobiography
- Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir
- Subjects: Family or family life, Art or artists, Marriage, Schools or school life, Novelists, England or English people, Divorce, Ireland or Irish people, Habits
- Locales: England, Ireland, Switzerland, Iran
Irish writer William Trevor has gathered twenty-nine new and previously published essays into a loose but coherent memoir dealing with various stages in his life and a number of the people and places that influenced him along the way. The essays vary considerably in form, from autobiographical pieces such as “The Warden’s Wife” and “Alma Mater,” which comprise about half the collection, to travel essays, character sketches, and literary biography/analysis. The result is not a typical memoir with the author as central figure but a collection of autobiographical and quasi-autobiographical sketches unified by the narrator’s vision and generally melancholy tone.
Like Trevor’s fiction, particularly the short stories, these sketches emphasize the quirks of human character, often in its less happy aspects. There is Kitty, the family’s long-suffering maid, whose unhappy life was made more so by Trevor and his brother. Teachers, such as a naive and gentle headmaster or Trevor’s art teacher, come briefly but vividly to life, as does the female advertising copywriter who thrived on the possibility of other’s happiness. Most telling and characteristic is Trevor’s unforgettable portrait of a headmaster’s wife. Quiet, unattractive, and painfully shy, she harbored a passion for horse racing.
Although the travel pieces are perhaps the least interesting in the book, Trevor can reveal the spirit of place as tellingly as the nuances of character. “In County Cork” captures Trevor’s birthplace and its people; “Out of Season” depicts the quiet life of a seaside resort in winter. Often the theme in these essays is the contrast between the permanence of landscape and the fleetingness of human life.
Readers looking for conventional autobiography or revelations about the relationship between Trevor’s life and his fiction will find nuggets, but not a rich vein. Those looking for insights into the essence of Trevor’s experience and the origins of some of his favorite themes—the unhappiness of marriage, the cruelties of school, the mysteries of human behavior, the little tragedies of most lives—will be amply rewarded and surprisingly refreshed by these vivid portraits, sharply observed evocations, and telling reminiscences. Lucy Willis’ illustrations are the perfect complement to Trevor’s precise yet sensuous prose.
Sources for Further Study
The Christian Science Monitor. March 10, 1994, p. 14.
London Review of Books. XV, December 16, 1993, p. 22.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 13, 1994, p. 6.
The New Republic. CCX, March 14, 1994, p. 38.
New Statesman and Society. VI, August 27, 1993, p. 40.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, February 13, 1994, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, January 24, 1994, p. 48.
The Times Literary Supplement. September 17, 1993, p. 24.
The Wall Street Journal. March 2, 1994, p. A9.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, March 20, 1994, p. 13.
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