The title story, the longest in the collection, amply illustrates Trevor’s themes and distinctive narrative skills. Set in nineteenth century Ireland and dealing with the peculiar tensions created between the Irish tenants and servants and their English masters, the tale centers on a English governess newly arrived to preside over the offspring of an English family that has resided in Ireland since the time of Elizabeth I. It encompasses all of the contradictions and conflicts bred of three hundred years of English rule and Irish subjugation, as the two races remain firmly separated even after years of cohabitation.
Told from multiple points of view, the story reflects Trevor’s desire to capture life whole, in all its complexity and confusion. By alternating narrative voices, he is able to create a multiple and shifting perspective, one which reveals the individual authority of each speaker.
Not all the stories are set in Ireland; some take place in Italy, providing the author with a new landscape against which to set his exiled and displaced characters. Trevor likes to establish his fictional figures in foreign locales because it allows him to see them out of context, exposed and vulnerable.
Whatever their setting, Trevor’s fictions examine humankind with a compassionate intelligence and a deep sympathy for the failed and fumbling of the world: the father and daughter of “On the Zattere,” the doomed Ralph de Courcy from “Virgins,” and the foolish Professor Flacks in “Two More Gallants.” Once again, William Trevor has proved that he is the finest short story writer of his generation and one of the best in the English language of any time.