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‘Last Stories’ by William Trevor *****

William Trevor seems to be a much adored author in the blogosphere, and he has been on my radar of authors to try for a number of years.  Before picking up his posthumously published collection, Last Stories, I had only read a Penguin Mini entitled Matilda’s England.  I liked this well enough, but it did not push me to pick up any more of Trevor’s work, and I wish it had.

9780241337769Trevor is described on this particular book’s blurb as an author ‘widely regarded as the greatest writer of short stories in the English language’.  This high accolade is matched by John Banville, who calls him ‘at his best the equal of Chekhov’, and Yiyun Li credits him with her entire writing career.

I chose to begin what will hopefully be an exploration of Trevor’s entire oeuvre with his final collection of stories, simply because it was the only volume written by him which my local library had in stock.  It is comprised of ten stories, all written towards the end of his life.  The blurb of Last Stories declares that Trevor ‘illuminates the lives of ordinary people, and plumbs the depths of the human spirit.’

Largely, Trevor’s stories focus upon normal, everyday occurrences, which could, in theory, affect us all.  In ‘At the Caffè Daria’, two women who used to play together as children – ‘Anita round-faced and trusting, Claire beautiful already’ – meet by chance in a London café, and Trevor recollects their complex history.  Of single mother Rosanne in the story entitled ‘Taking Mr Ravenswood’, he writes: ‘Sometimes it wasn’t bad, being alone, especially when she was tired it wasn’t, no effort made, none necessary, and the silence when the television was turned off came like a balm.  But the silence could be a vacuum too, and often felt like that.’  The protagonist of ‘Giotto’s Angels’ is suffering from amnesia.

There is such a knowing quality to Trevor’s writing, and in consequence, one immediately gets a feel for each of his characters.  We are made aware of what is important to them, as well as things that have occurred in their lives which have some impact upon their present selves.  He displays such complex human emotion, and dignifies every single one of his characters in Last Stories with motives and realistic feelings.  In ‘The Piano Teacher’s Pupil’, for instance, Trevor writes: ‘All her life, she often thought, was in this room, where her father had cosseted her in infancy, where he had seen her through the storms of adolescence, to which every evening he had brought back for his kitchens another chocolate he had invented for her.  It was here that her lover had pressed himself upon her and whispered that she was beautiful, swearing he could not live without her.  And now, in this same room, a marvel had occurred.’

Relationships and loneliness are at the core of Last Stories.  In ‘The Unknown Girl’, a young woman is killed in a traffic accident, and one of her previous employers, Harriet, is asked if she can give any details about her, for ‘nothing appears to be known about the girl.  Little more than her name.’  In the same story, Trevor sets out, in a discerning manner, the relationship between Harriet and her son, Stephen: ‘… this evening, as on other evenings, an undemanding affection one for the other made their relationship more than it might have been.  Their closeness came naturally, neither through obligation nor for a reason that was not one of feeling; and it was never said, but only known, that different circumstances, coming naturally also, would change everything.  They lived in a time-being, and accepted that.’

Last Stories is an exquisite collection, by a thankfully prolific author.  The tales here are thoughtful and perceptive, and I felt pulled into each of them straight away.  The stories are all quiet ones, but they and their characters are still rendered highly memorable by the strength of Trevor’s prose, and his insight.  There is an element of unpredictability here, and some of the stories certainly surprise.

I feel so lucky that I have Trevor’s entire oeuvre to read my way through, and imagine that the stories which I find will be just as touching and memorable as those collected in Last Stories.  I can see him becoming one of my favourite authors, and cannot recommend this collection enough.

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Highly Anticipated Books

I made a blog post quite some time ago, stating that I was going to stop adding books to my ridiculously long TBR list.  As is perhaps predictable, this didn’t last that long, particularly when the ‘best of’ lists started to emerge last year.  I thought, therefore, that I would make a list of books which I am particularly looking forward to, and which I hope to get to sooner rather than later.  Not all of them were published in 2018; indeed, some of them are much earlier.  I have collected together ten titles here, in no particular order, and have included their official blurbs alongside them.

 

1. Census by Jesse Ball 35068746
‘A powerful and moving new novel from an award-winning, acclaimed author: in the wake of a devastating revelation, a father and son journey north across a tapestry of town.  When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son–a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.  Traveling into the country, through towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet, the man and his son encounter a wide range of human experience. While some townspeople welcome them into their homes, others who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs are wary of their presence. When they press toward the edges of civilization, the landscape grows wilder, and the towns grow farther apart and more blighted by industrial decay. As they approach “Z,” the man must confront a series of questions: What is the purpose of the census? Is he complicit in its mission? And just how will he learn to say good-bye to his son?  Mysterious and evocative, Census is a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory, and the ferocity of parental love, from one of our most captivating young writers.’

 

367110262. The Wildlands by Abby Geni
‘Mercy, Oklahoma became infamous when a Category Five tornado ravaged the small town. No family was more devastated than the McClouds: four siblings left orphaned, their home and farm gone. Darlene, Jane, and Cora became the media focus of the tornado’s aftermath, causing great tension with Tucker, who soon abandoned his sisters to their grief and disappeared.  On the three-year anniversary of the tornado, a cosmetics factory outside of Mercy is bombed, and the lab animals trapped within are released. This violent act appears at first to have nothing to do with “the saddest family in Mercy.” Then Tucker reappears, injured in the blast, and seeks the help of nine-year-old Cora. Caught up in the thrall of her brilliant, charismatic brother, whom she has desperately missed, Cora agrees to accompany Tucker on his cross-country mission to save animals and make war on human civilisation.  Soon Cora is not just Tucker’s companion but his accomplice. Learning at his knee, she takes on a new identity, engaging in escalating acts of violence and testing the limits of her humanity. Darlene works with Mercy police to find her siblings, leading to an unexpected showdown at the San Diego Zoo, as Tucker erases the boundaries between the human and animal world.’

 

3. Heat Wave by Penelope Lively 40655312
‘Pauline is spending the summer at World’s End, a cottage somewhere in the middle of England. This year the adjoining cottage is occupied by her daughter Teresa and baby grandson Luke; and, of course, Maurice, the man Teresa married. As the hot months unfold, Maurice grows ever more involved in the book he is writing – and with his female copy editor – and Pauline can only watch in dismay and anger as her daughter repeats her own mistakes in love. The heat and tension will lead to a violent, startling climax.  In Heat Wave, Penelope Lively gives us a moving portrayal of a fragile family damaged and defined by adultery, and the lengths to which a mother will go to protect the ones she loves.’

 

320766784. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
‘Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes–the moment she hears him speak of his crimes — she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.  Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.  But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.  An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed — but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe — and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.’

 

5. All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky 9568575
‘In haunting ways, this gorgeous novel prefigures Irène Némirovsky’s masterpiece Suite Française. Set in France between 1910 and 1940 and first published in France in 1947, five years after the author’s death, All Our Worldly Goods is a gripping story of war, family life and star-crossed lovers. Pierre and Agnes marry for love against the wishes of his parents and his grandfather, the tyrannical family patriarch. Their marriage provokes a family feud that cascades down the generations. This brilliant novel is full of drama, heartbreak, and the telling observations that have made Némirovsky’s work so beloved and admired.’

 

5995506. Death in Summer by William Trevor
There were three deaths that summer. The first was Letitia’s, sudden and quite unexpected, leaving her husband, Thaddeus, haunted by the details of her last afternoon. 
The next death came some weeks later, after Thaddeus’s mother-in-law helped him to interview for a nanny to bring up their baby. None of the applicants were suitable–least of all the last one, with her sharp features, her shabby clothes that reeked of cigarettes, her badly typed references–so Letitia’s mother moved herself in. But then, just as the household was beginning to settle down, the last of the nannies surprisingly returned, her unwelcome arrival heralding the third of the summer tragedies.

 

7. The Shrimp and the Anemone by L.P. Hartley 39358010
‘An evocative account of a childhood summer spent beside the sea in Norfolk by brother and sister, Eustace and Hilda.’

 

8. After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry
‘When Sarah Perry was twelve, she saw a partial eclipse of the sun, an event she took as a sign of good fortune for her and her mother, Crystal. But that brief moment of darkness ultimately foreshadowed a much 33413878larger one: two days later, Crystal was murdered in their home in rural Maine, just a few feet from Sarah’s bedroom.  The killer escaped unseen; it would take the police twelve years to find him, time in which Sarah grew into adulthood, struggling with abandonment, police interrogations, and the effort of rebuilding her life when so much had been lost. Through it all she would dream of the eventual trial, a conviction—all her questions finally answered. But after the trial, Sarah’s questions only grew. She wanted to understand her mother’s life, not just her final hours, and so she began a personal investigation, one that drew her back to Maine, taking her deep into the abiding darkness of a small American town.  Told in searing prose, After the Eclipse is a luminous memoir of uncomfortable truth and terrible beauty, an exquisite memorial for a mother stolen from her daughter, and a blazingly successful attempt to cast light on her life once more.’

 

9. The Gipsy’s Baby by Rosamond Lehmann 6106404
‘In these captivating short stories, we find perfect miniatures of Rosamond Lehmann’s fictional world. The themes that permeate her novels are echoed here—delicate portrayals of the world of adults as seen through the eyes of childhood, and fascination with other families—their otherness and the romance of their separate worlds. These beautifully crafted stories wonderfully demonstrate the genius of Rosamond Lehmann.’

 

185367310. Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel
‘Imaginative and intelligent, Alberta is a misfit trapped in a stiflingly provincial town in the far north of Norway whose only affinity is for her extrovert brother Jacob.’

 

 

 

Which books are on your highly anticipated list?  Have you read any of these?

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The Book Trail: From ‘The Colour’ to ‘The Light of Day’

I have chosen Rose Tremain’s wonderful historical novel, The Colour, to kick off this edition of The Book Trail.  As ever, I am using the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ feature on Goodreads in order to generate this list.

 

1. The Colour by Rose Tremain 9780099425151
Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from England to New Zealand, along with Joseph’s mother Lilian, in search of new beginnings and prosperity, but the harsh land near Christchurch where they settle threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in a creek bed, he hides the discovery from both his wife and mother and becomes obsessed with the riches awaiting him deep in the earth. Abandoning his farm and family, he sets off alone for the new goldfields over the Southern Alps, a moral wilderness where many others, under the seductive dreams of the “colour,” rush to their destinies and doom.

2. In the Forest by Edna O’Brien
Based on a horrendous true crime, In the Forest is the story of Mich O’Kane — ‘not all there in the head’ it’s said — who shoots three people dead in the woods of Ireland. Edna O’Brien traces the events that lead to such horror. Mich O’Kane hears voices; he cannot stop mourning the death of his mother. Theft and other crimes lead him to a Christian Brothers borstal, then to a British prison. By the time he returns home, he is an institutionalised criminal incapable of telling the truth even to himself. Single mother Eily lives with her young son Maddie in a house Mich camped out in after his mother’s death. One night, Mich drags them out of the house and orders Eily to drive to the forest. The third death is that of a priest he entreats to come to the murder site. This tragic and starkly terrible story is told from various points of view, including Eily’s, Mich’s granny’s, and a priest’s. But the core of the story is Mich, born to fail. Can there be any hope for him?

11366043. Schooling by Heather McGowan
Catrine Evans, a young American, is sent to an English boarding school after her mother dies of cancer. Memories of Isabelle, the best friend she left behind in Maine, give way to dreams haunted by images of an accidental death she believes they caused before she left for England.
4. Small Remedies by Shashi Deshpande
Shashi Deshpande’s latest novel explores the lives of two women, one obsessed with music and the other a passionate believer in Communism, who break away from their families to seek fulfilment in public life. Savitribai Indorekar, born into an orthodox Hindu family, elopes with her Muslim lover and accompanist, Ghulaam Saab, to pursue a career in music. Gentle, strong-willed Leela, on the other hand, gives her life to the Party, and to working with the factory workers of Bombay.  Fifty years after these events have been set in motion, Madhu, Leela’s niece, travels to Bhavanipur, Savitribai’s home in her last years, to write a biography of Bai. Caught in her own despair over the loss of her only son, Aditya, Madhu tries to make sense of the lives of Bai and those around her, and in doing so, seeks to find a way out of her own grief.
5. The Romantics by Pankaj Mishra 307278
The young Brahman Samar has come to the holy city of Benares to complete his education and take the civil service exam that will determine his future. But in this city redolent of timeworn customs, where pilgrims bathe in the sacred Ganges and breathe in smoke from burning ghats along the shore, Samar is offered entirely different perspectives on his country. Miss West and her circle, indifferent to the reality around them, represent those drawn to India as a respite from the material world. And Rajesh, a sometimes violent, sometimes mystical leader of student malcontents, presents a more jaundiced view. More than merely illustrating the clash of cultures, Mishra presents the universal truth that our desire for the other is our most painful joy.
6. That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern
It is a village flirting with the more sophisticated trappings of modernity but steeped in the traditions of its unforgettable inhabitants and their lives. There are the Ruttledges, who came from London in search of a different life on the edge of the village lake; John Quinn, who will stop at nothing to ensure a flow of women through his life; Jimmy Joe McKiernan, head of the local IRA as well as town auctioneer and undertaker; the gentle Jamesie and his wife, Mary, who have never left the lake and who know about everything that ever stirred or moved there; Patrick Ryan, the builder who never quite finishes what he starts; Bill Evans, the farmhand whose orphaned childhood was marked with state-sanctioned cruelties and whose adulthood is marked by the scars; and the wealthiest man in town, known as the Shah.  A year in the lives of these and other characters unfolds through the richly observed rituals of work and play, of religious observance and annual festivals, and the details of the changing seasons, of the cycles of birth and death. With deceptive simplicity and eloquence, the author reveals the fundamental workings of human nature as it encounters the extraordinary trials and pleasures, terrors and beauty, of ordinary life.

1673027. The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
The stunning new novel from highly acclaimed author William Trevor is a brilliant, subtle, and moving story of love, guilt, and forgiveness. The Gault family leads a life of privilege in early 1920s Ireland, but the threat of violence leads the parents of nine-year-old Lucy to decide to leave for England, her mother’s home. Lucy cannot bear the thought of leaving Lahardane, their country house with its beautiful land and nearby beach, and a dog she has befriended. On the day before they are to leave, Lucy runs away, hoping to convince her parents to stay. Instead, she sets off a series of tragic misunderstandings that affect all of Lahardane’s inhabitants for the rest of their lives.

8. The Light of Day by Graham Swift
‘On the anniversary of a life-shattering event, George Webb, a former policeman turned private detective, revisits the catastrophes of his past and reaffirms the extraordinary direction of his future. Two years before, an assignment to follow a strayed husband and his mistress appeared simple enough, but this routine job left George a transformed man.  Suspenseful, moving, and hailed by critics as a detective story unlike any other, The Light of Day is a gripping tale of murder and redemption, as well as a bold exploration of love and self-discovery.

 

Have you read any of these books?  Which pique your interest?

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