The Irish novelist and short-story writer has died - his books are well worth discovering, if you haven't already
Those who love literature will be sad to hear of the recent death of the great Irish novelist and short-story writer William Trevor. The Guardian has a warm obituary written by the late Peter Porter .
William Trevor was one of the greats of our time. His book Felicia’s Journey (1994), which won the Whitbread Prize, is an astonishing story shot through with piercing insight, about an Irish girl’s journeying to England, which lays bare the state of Thatcher’s Britain better than anyone else has ever done either before or since. It is not as such a political novel, but rather an existential one, revealing the bleakness of British life, its coldness and alienating quality, set, for the most part, in the Midlands. Setting and characterisation are two things at which Trevor excelled. I read the novel when it first came out, and I can still remember the description of one of the characters who has “pigeon-coloured hair” and lived in a house full of “elaborately framed portraits of strangers.”
The Story of Lucy Gault (2002) also trades in the theme of alienation, and is the story of the way a family in Ireland is broken up by political turmoil. Trevor is a master at evoking disjunction, the way things become separate without death necessarily to separate them. At the same time, his work is never depressing, but has a haunting beauty to it. There is, somewhere in the bleakness, a sense of hope.
I met William Trevor many years ago when he, a giant of the literary scene, and I, a mere tyro, were both up for the same literary prize. A man of rare charm and gentleness, he was very kind to me, and we had dinner together, over which he told me that he had known a cousin of mine many years ago. At this cousin’s flat he had some reason to go into the kitchen and open the fridge. The interior was completely empty apart from a packet of sausages. This detail appealed to him, a novelist who was the master of the telling detail.
Usually, when a writer dies, his work, which may have been a little neglected, comes back into focus. This is an irony that William Trevor would enjoy, I think. A Protestant from County Cork, with nevertheless a keen understanding of and sympathy with Catholicism (it was one of the topics we discussed, apart from my cousin’s empty fridge), he would, I am sure, be glad of our prayers at this time. And if you have not yet read them, you, dear reader, would be glad of his books.