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
Source: Kingston Library.