Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 4, 2010

Cheating at Canasta (2007), by William Trevor

As I’ve blogged before, I prefer the novel to short stories, but I’m very fond of William Trevor’s writing, and would probably read a report about Irish drains if it had his name on the cover.   The Story of Lucy Gault is my favourite, such a sad, haunting tale, but then so is much of his work…Felicia’s Journey is sad too, and there is a melancholy tone to Nights at the Alexander,   – which seems to be out-of-print, as is  The Old Boys –  but you can still get hold of  After Rain, Death in Summer and The Children of Dynmouth (the only book I didn’t really enjoy).  Love and Summer (shortlisted for the 2009 Booker)  is on the TBR but I saw Cheating at Canasta at the library and so I’m reading that first.

Anyway, I just had to begin reading this short story collection in the middle – with the story that gives the book its title  – because ‘Cheating at Canasta’ in set in Harry’s Bar in Venice where The Spouse and I had (ruinously expensive) cocktails in 2005.   Did we quarrel there, as the young couple do in Trevor’s story?  I can’t remember, though of course in the space of six weeks away from home we do squabble from time to time.  I can’t imagine how we would react if some stranger intervened, as Mallory does, albeit with discretion.   His judgement that the couple risk losing the opportunity of a contented marriage derives from his own loss, but still…

That sense of loss is there again in The Dressmaker’s Child, and fatalism too, as it is in The Room. ( The Room won the O. Henry Award for short stories of exceptional merit in 2007, as did Folie a Deux in 2008.)   However it was Men of Ireland that is, for me, the most interesting of these tales: it’s about a ne’er do well returning to his home town to demand hush-money from a priest, and it’s an eloquent expression of the sense of loss that abuse revelations have brought to the Irish.  They are having a bad time of it lately, what with economic disaster following so hard on the heels of their ‘Irish Tiger economy’ and the shame of priestly child-abuse impacting perhaps more in a country where the Catholic church is so deeply embedded in their culture and history.

Social change is often a theme in Trevor’s oeuvre and I wonder what influence these unwelcome changes will have on Irish writing…

Author: William Trevor
Title: Cheating at Canasta
Publisher: Thorndike Windsor Paragon, 2008
ISBN: 9781410404183
Source: Kingston Library.


  1. I need to read more Trevor, I know. I’ve only read a couple of short stories and have enjoyed them, but I think my next one should be a novel. Love your comment about squabbling while travelling! Would be a strange couple that never did I reckon.


    • Sue, I would love to read one of your thoughtful posts about Trevor, putting him in the wider picture of contemporary short story authors!


      • Why thanks Lisa – but I feel I’m reading all these short stories but not quite putting them all into some sort of overall perspective. But, you never know, some inspiration might befall me…


  2. Do you read much in the way of translated short fiction? A little while ago I came across a website that published short stories in translation but I unsubscribed from it along with many others when I went overseas (to keep my ISP costs down) and now I can’t find it…
    I ask because five minutes after I finished Trevor and his deeply melancholy stories I’m reading Elfriede Jelinek, who won the Nobel in 2004. I’ve only read 10 pages but already she seems to be a bit like Elias Canetti (Auto da Fe) in the way she depicts extremes of behaviour and I’m wondering if this is a kind of European post-Nazi thing? It’s so different from the quiet, reflective tone of Irish writing, or the post-Empire angst happening in Britain but I haven’t read enough works in translation to make any valid generalisations about it.
    You know who it reminds me of? Rosa Capelli!


  3. Whom I haven’t read yet! Was just thinking about that the other day. No, I haven’t read translated short fiction for a long time. It was de Maupassant who first got me into short stories a few decades ago, but, other than some Murakami I can’t right now think of non-English language short story writers I’ve read recently.

    What you’re describing could very well be a European post-Nazi thing as you suggest.


    • I shall read on and let you know!


  4. […] Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor, and […]


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