Politics and Society

Friday, May 20, 2011

Re: William Trevor (Writers and their Seasons)

I read somewhere this quip: 'It's a good thing Trevor is already Trevor, or he wouldn't get an editor to answer an email.' Knowing nothing of William Trevor to this point, I naturally had to find out why.

Trevor is an Irish author, 82 years of age--his birthday is Tuesday may 24th--for over 50 years a resident in England but "Irish in every vein." His collected short stories (1993) comprise a huge volume which is suitable as building material or as a substitute for exercise equipment. Two more volumes were published more recently (2009), and he's not done yet!

I have just begun reading William Trevor's After Rain, a book of short stories from 1996 (I scored a first edition in mint condition for $6USD), and I am loving the stories, their forms and plots and especially his presentation of character, but the language, well, not so much. Do the editors have a point? Is the quip more than a matter of fashion? Most everything a writer can, and should, do is done and done well, but I am still a bit disappointed? Sounds slightly spoiled when I put it that way, no?

It makes me wonder and want to know--very specifically and critically--just what it is I am looking for when I approach an author who is new to me. I went to the Oxford book of shorts, selected and edited by Byatt in 1998, to see where he stood with the times. Imagine, a writer almost universally acclaimed as the master of the short story is not represented there! This makes me think that I am not alone when it comes to approaching writers with an agenda--or just a jaundiced eye.

I'm resolved to do a few things: 1) read all of After Rain (which is just a tiny part of his  oeuvre among short stories, alone) with an eye to my own limitations as a reader; 2) read Death in Summer, his novel from 1998, to be generally more familiar with him as an author, and then, 3) read a bunch of the Byatt selections from the Oxford book, focusing on 'the moderns'. Perhaps some comparison can lead to insight about what can make a writer well respected, but still unpopular. (In this regard, I'm thinking also of comparing it to Ishiguro"s Nocturnes, another 1998 book of shorts, some of which I have already read and enjoyed, but, frankly, this may be making the project a career. We'll see!)

My gut tells me Trevor is both a man of his times and a victim of his times. I hope to be more whole-heartedly on his side before this is over! (Arghh! This could require some reception history research as well.)

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