The Stories of William Trevor

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

The Stories of William Trevor is a compilation of previous volumes published between 1967 and 1983—The Day We Got Drunk on Cake and Other Stories (1967), The Ballroom of Romance and Other Stories (1972), Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories (1975), Lovers of Their Time and Other Stories (1978), and Beyond the Pale and Other Stories (1981). All of the collections were first published in England by the Bodley Head; the individual stories, sixty in all, appeared initially in prestigious magazines such as the Antioch Review, Antaeus, and The New Yorker, as well as in various anthologies. William Trevor’s achievements as a writer are not limited to the short story. He has written a number of plays for radio, television, and the stage—some of which have been adapted from his short stories; he is also the author of eight novels. In spite of his accomplishments in other genres, however, this collection of his work suggests that the short story may be the literary form in which he excels.

Born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in 1928, Trevor spent his boyhood in provincial Ireland, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and has lived and worked in England for more than twenty years. It is thus hardly surprising to find that a number of his stories have an Irish or an Anglo-Irish provenance. These stories, however, like the others in the collection, cannot be pigeonholed in a single category. Although presented against a common background, they reflect various angles of perception on the human situation rather than on a specific political or historical problem. The tangled religious and political history of the relationship between England and Ireland serves as a ckdrop for revelations of the suffering, the chronic misunderstanding, and the occasional sudden illumination of human beings in some way caught in the vise of catastrophic circumstance.

In one such story, a middle-aged brother and sister of the Protestant faith find the nature of their relationship to their fellow inhabitants of a village in Southern Ireland gradually transformed as a result of Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) activity in Northern Ireland; the emotions of “The Distant Past,” which had been tempered by time into a kind of affectionate and congenial goodwill, emerge in their old ugliness. “Another Christmas” focuses on the breakup of a warm relationship between a transplanted Irish family in London and their landlord as a result of a disagreement over the perspective from which terrorist activity in Belfast should be evaluated. Though none of the principals condone the bloody violence, the differences in mind-sets account for the loss of friendship and the diminution of love. “Beyond the Pale” puts a group of upper-middle-class Englishmen who are vacationing in an idyllic retreat in Northern Ireland into peripheral contact with the tragedy of terrorism, which all but one of them are too self-centered and insensitive to understand.

It is difficult to find a generalization that will do justice to the quality of this varied and extensive collection. Though some of the stories center on highly improbable situations, Trevor is essentially a realistic writer. His attention to, and mastery of, detail is remarkable. With a few deft verbal strokes, he can capture the down-at-the-heels ambience of an Irish public house; describe the glossy, artificial atmosphere of an affluent advertising firm; delineate the sterile, self-conscious appointments of a nouveau-riche-styled London flat; set forth in a room-by-room tour the homespun, faith-ridden soul of a small cottage in Southern Ireland; or provide a Chekhovian sense of decay in a survey of the faded, vacuous splendor of an ancient manor house. Almost every subject he touches is invested with a strong sense of place. He has the power to make his reader visualize and believe, even when he approaches the outer reaches of fantasy or the fringes of fable, as he does in his description of the startling relationship that develops between a childless couple and a lonely middle-aged baby-sitter in “In...

(The entire section is 1682 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

Library Journal. CVIII, September 1, 1983, p. 1722.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 2, 1983, p. 1.

The New Republic. CLXXXIX. November 28, 1983, p. 37.

New Statesman. CVI, August 12, 1983, p. 27.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, October 2, 1983, p. 1.

Newsweek. CII, October 10, 1983, p. 85.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXIV, August 5, 1983, p. 85.

Saturday Review. IX, September, 1983, p. 57.

Time. CXXII, October 10, 1983, p. 72.