Unspoken tensions and inexpressible disappointment dominate William Trevor’s novels and short stories. Featuring the failure of ordinary dreams in ordinary worlds, Trevor’s fiction delineates the sometimes excruciating lines his characters thread in making conservative decisions blocking pathways to freedom, inhibition and romantic love in favor of safe personal worlds. The strength it takes to make these decisions as well as the fear that motivates them are characteristic of Trevor’s writing as a balanced exploration of the tenderness and cruelty of humanity in the everyday.
Trevor’s novella Love and Summer sees protagonist Elllie abandon an opportunity of romantic love with a travelling photographer for a life of tender security with a local farmer. The middle-aged protagonist of A Bit on The Side also leaves romance behind her in the foyer of a cinema for a life of singular independence. Faced with the charm offensive of a man lacking any authentic substance, she chooses to return home abandoning the experiences that had seemed possible in the early evening.
In many ways leaving the possibilities romance seems to proffer highlights her strength and independence. However, the reader is also left with a suggestion of loss and loneliness that is tragic in its frequent ordinariness. Similarly, The Piano Tuner’s Wives traces how the haunting loss of romantic love forty years before the story takes place erodes the Piano Tuner’s second marriage. The unsustainable ghosting of the marriage by a decision made almost a half century before leads to a gradual and irreversible loss of love. It is perhaps through this slow inquiry into characters’ actions that Trevor threads an appreciation of humanity across his writing.
Trevor’s novel The Story of Lucy Gault explores the tragedy of unrewarded bravery. Choosing to stay in the family home after it has come under threat from local rebels during the War of Independence, Lucy is bound to the house by her past love for whom she has waited since the end of the World War One. Remaining in Wexford after her parents move away leaves Lucy facing a life of indefinite and isolated loneliness.
As the daughter of the local Anglo-Irish family, she signals the end of the family’s line and the end of the Anglo-Irish in the area echoing a past soon set to disappear. Lost romantic love and failed dreams, the stuff of mundane tragedy, become the closed cage in which Lucy is bound to wait until her tragic death. Taken by or given to the sea, Lucy misses the return of her first and only love by the shortest of time periods, leaving the novel’s conclusion bereft of joy and in mourning for Lucy’s loss and, indeed, the broader loss her tragic ending signals. In tune with the quite grind of a life of loneliness, The Story of Lucy Gault is testament to Trevor’s capacity to humanise tragic loss that can be overlooked for its ordinary frequency.