The Hill Bachelors

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For the large number of readers who have come to recognize William Trevor as one of the greatest short story writers in the English-speaking world, The Hill Bachelors will certainly not disappoint.

Trevor sets his stories principally in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and England, alternating the locale for the stories so that the reader moves from Ireland to England and back to Ireland again, with one excursion to France in the center of the collection.

All of the stories are focused on the contemporary scene in Europe, except for one story that is set in medieval Ireland and another set in suburban Dublin in 1950. But no matter where the stories are set in time or place, the characters all face a similar problem of emotional distance and longing.

The title story, “The Hill Bachelors,” can serve as a model. Paulie, who grew up in rural Ireland, has moved to the city, and found new hope for a career and for love. When his father dies, however, Paulie feels the need to return home, to an unpromising future on a hilly, less than perfect farm, so that he can take care of his mother. He loses the women he is attracted to because of his tenuous economic position on the farm. There are no emotional fireworks in the story, no racy scenes of sexual adventures or major blowups between family members. As is typical in a Trevor story, emotions are muted, the tensions in the story are subtle and beautifully rendered, and the resolution leads not to comfort but a form of disquieting empathy.