Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

William Trevor is an Irish writer who has worked in nearly every literary form, including drama for radio, television, and stage. His real forte, however, is fiction, especially short fiction; his stories have appeared in The New Yorker and other prestigious publications and have been collected to accolades of critical praise. Perhaps because short fiction is particularly well suited to the epiphanic intensity that is Trevor’s trademark, his stories are his best works. In his novels, the intensity does not hold. Other People’s Worlds, for example, especially after the departure of Francis Tyte, has a leisurely nineteenth century gait to it. This is not a fatal flaw, but after his short stories, Other People’s Worlds seems deflated, held together more by Trevor’s ability to create memorable characters than by the intensity of the story.

Certainly, there are a number of modern British writers with whom Trevor compares favorably—Graham Greene and Iris Murdoch, for example, who, like Trevor, mine the vein of evil, illusion, and spirituality. The closest comparison, however, is to John Fowles, and especially to The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969). In both Fowles’s novel and Other People’s Worlds, several stories are being told at once, and one is clearly an illusion: in the latter, the television thriller about Constance Kent; in the former, the nineteenth century tale of the title. Yet which story, both novelists ask, is more true? Does one spill over into the other? Does the illusion change the reality—or subsume it? In the end, readers of both novels should question their own ability to distinguish fact from fiction: Trevor says that the Jewish dressmaker is dead, but is that simply another story? Like a number of writers, including Fowles, Trevor compels his readers to examine the nature of fantasy and fiction, not only in other people’s heads but also in their own. For that reason alone, Other People’s Worlds is an important contribution to the modern exploration of the thin line between fiction and reality.