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Jan/Feb 2005 Book Reviews

A Bit on the Side
William Trevor
Viking (2004) 245 pages

reviewed by Kevin McGowin


William Trevor is not only the finest British writer of his generation; he is, arguably, the finest living short story writer in the world.

The stories here are like emeralds. I have never read a writer so technically perfect while at the same time so emotionally resonant. There is irony in Trevor, but I found this collection so poignant, I wept. I'd get to the close of a story, and it would actually make me shiver—and yes, dammit, I'd cry.

It was the sheer impact of the words, a distinctly Irish aesthetic, lyrical and atmospheric—if Cheever or Carver is your Man, you may not like these stories, but you won't be able to deny their genius.

I think that in this case, it would be churlish to even attempt to sort out the best and worst of the stories, because in Trevor, there really is no worst to weigh. He has only one parallel in the history of the Story in English, and that's D.H. Lawrence. If you don't know Trevor but you've read Lawrence, think of "Odour of Chysanthemums" or "Wintery Peacock" and there you have it—save for the fact that William Trevor is better.

Isolation and loneliness are things that in reading, as in Life, one gets into at one's own peril. You might, as I do, find Trevor's stories depresing as hell. Certainly, they will validate your deepest fears. But I would remark that a lot of us on the planet today are depressed as hell, and in spite of their capacity to devastate one's emotions, these stories are the most profound affirmation of Life that I've recently read.

This is a work of such magnitude, it seems stupid to say anything further about it, except that the man deserves the Nobel.

 

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