I am saddened to hear of the death of author Sir William Trevor at the age of eighty-eight, a long-time resident of Devon and a much-respected writer whose books are very well-represented on my shelves. I had often thought about writing to him and never did, maybe because I had always known he was one of those writers who preferred to side-step the limelight, and yet that never seemed to affect his popularity... maybe all this tweetering and self-promotion isn't so essential after all. Write good books and we'll get to hear about them just the same.
Thinking about Love and Summer which I wrote about back in 2009 when it had been long-listed for the Booker Prize...
"I'm afraid my expectations for Irish writing are hopelessly and perhaps stereo-typically governed, much like we always know their entry for Eurovision will be sweetly lyrical and tuneful and not a completely off the wall ear-bashing, and I can only apologise to all those cutting-edge Irish writers who may be out there pushing the envelope.
Writers like John McGahern and Sebastian Barry, Anne Enright and Deirdre Madden lead me willingly into those acres of green, lush, lyrical poetic prose and how completely William Trevor fulfilled and exceeded those expectations with Love and Summer. Then I discover that he lives in Devon, so perhaps our verdant pastures offer a little inspiration and to know that at eighty-one William Trevor is still writing like this makes me think our water must suit him too.
This proved to be one achingly beautiful read for me, utterly absorbing and an ending that quietly took my breath away as the tangles of misunderstanding and interpretation surrounding these lives unraveled and rewove themselves into a future that would suffice for everyone...well almost everyone, there must always be some disappointments and discontent in life."
"A modest and private man, Trevor disliked talking about his books and abhorred any personal publicity, believing that the work should stand for itself. He lived for many years in a secluded house in Devon, visiting Ireland frequently, taking walking holidays in Italy, and pursuing his passions of gardening and watching sport – especially rugby, cricket and tennis. But it was writing that truly absorbed him....
He contributed stories to the New Yorker for many years and had a firm belief that the short story was as great an art form as the novel, according to his publisher Penguin. Collected Stories was published with Viking in two volumes in 2009, including short stories "The Ballroom of Romance", "Kathleen’s Field" and "Cheating at Canasta". The stories were described by a Penguin spokesperson as "among the greatest stories of the last half-century, drawing comparison with the earlier masters of the form, Chekhov, Maupassant and Joyce".
I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have that two volume boxed set of short stories on my shelf and will revisit them soon, and in memory of a great writer.
Meanwhile, if you have a favourite book by William Trevor please do tell us more in comments, and don't miss this wonderful interview in the Paris Review...
What is your definition of a short story?
I think it is the art of the glimpse. If the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story is an impressionist painting. It should be an explosion of truth. Its strength lies in what it leaves out just as much as what it puts in, if not more. It is concerned with the total exclusion of meaninglessness. Life, on the other hand, is meaningless most of the time. The novel imitates life, where the short story is bony, and cannot wander. It is essential art.