By Warwick McFadyen
Death has come for William Trevor. He would, if he could look back over his shoulder, see nothing remarkable in that. He was, after all, 88. But even if he had been half that age, the writer still would have seen in it only the realisation of what life’s guarantees truly hold. Nothing.
Still, it is a time for mourning. And a time for farewells. For Trevor was one of the greats. If William Blake thought of seeing “a world in a grain of sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour’’, Trevor viewed it in the small things that occupy an hour, a day, a life.
He was the shadow in the room, the observer. The nature of people did not allow lives to be followed along a grand design. Life was too messy, too much balanced on the caprice of chance. He saw that, and he wrote of it.
He once told The New Yorker that he saw himself as “a predator, an invader of people”. He could load a glimpse between two people, or a passing touch with the weight of any number of emotions: desire, humour, remorse, dread or guilt. It was to the latter that he was especially talented in pressing upon his characters. His novel The Story of Lucy Gault is an exquisite diamond-cut example. And he was prolific in doing so, having produced volume after volume of short story collections and novels. He won nearly every literary award except the Nobel Prize.
He was also part of a chain in the literary tradition of his home country Ireland: the native son who moves away, and then writes of home. He spent most of his life in Devon, casting his eyes across the sea to the cities, villages and homes of his birthplace, and of his adopted home, to bear witness to the life and death struggles that play out in ordinary circumstances.
Trevor’s particular gift was in writing of such things without explicitly naming the many terrors that lived beneath the surface. He could hold you in thrall to his words because he wrote to the heart. You turned the page, as I have done over hundreds of his pages, to see not where the next explosion has occurred, but to go ever deeper into the lives of strangers. For Trevor made fiction real.
Cynthia stumbled off, leaving a silence behind her. Before it was broken I knew she was right when she said we would just go home, away from this country we had come to love. And I knew as well that neither here nor at home would she be led to a blue van that was not quite an ambulance. Strafe would stay with her because Strafe is made like that, honourable in his own particular way. I felt a pain where perhaps my heart is, and again I wanted to cry. Why couldn’t it have been she who had gone down to the rocks and slipped on the seaweed or just walked into the sea, it didn’t matter which? Her awful rigmarole hung about us as the last of the tea things were gathered up – the girls who’d fled, the famine, and the people planted. The children were there, too, grown up into murdering riff-raff.
Beyond the Pale
Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor