Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told by a limited third-person narrator who has insight into the thoughts and feelings of Gavin and Polly. The other couple, Sue and Malcolm, are seen only through the eyes of Gavin and Polly, although their motivations are made unmistakably clear through their words and actions.

Although William Trevor’s style is naturalistic, and the dialogue and setting ring absolutely true to their time and place, there is also a symbolic element that reinforces the main theme of the loss of innocence. This is in the contrast between the lives of the couples when they lived in the center of London and when they moved to the suburbs. The city center is associated with authenticity of life, the outer suburbs with false values. For example, ten years ago the two couples used to go regularly to Tonino’s Trattoria on Greek Street in the city, and Gavin fondly recalls those lazy evenings of fine food and drink and amiable companionship. A branch of Tonino’s has opened in the suburbs, and Gavin has convinced himself that it is very like the original. Polly, however, knows better. She knows that the Tonino’s in the suburbs is just a joke, a sham compared with the original on Greek Street. Nothing in the suburbs can match what they left behind in the city, including the quality of their lives. They are like the fallen angel Lucifer, thrust out from the burning center of life in which everything is true to itself, to the outer suburbs (the equivalent of the outer circles of hell), in which everything is a lie, however prettily it is dressed up.

In many of Trevor’s stories, the moment of greatest significance comes near the end. It is often an internal realization by the protagonist that reflects a profound shift in understanding of his or her own life and sometimes of life in general. Usually this is presented as a surprise or an unexpected twist. So it is in this story, when Polly, having convinced herself that she has not fallen like the others, realizes that in fact she has, although in a different and quite unexpected way.