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...
(The entire section is 441 words.)