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William Trevor, The woman of the house

November 27, 2009

[WARNING: SPOILERS, if you think it matters]

According to Wikipedia,William Trevor’s characters “are usually marginalised members of society: children, old people, single middle-aged men and women, or the unhappily married.” This is certainly the case with Trevor’s short story, The woman of the house, which was published last year in The New Yorker. All four characters in the story are marginalised, two are middle-aged to old, and two are young, but all live on the edge of society struggling to survive in one way or another. In fact it is said of the two young men that:

Survival as they were was their immediate purpose, their hope that there might somewhere be a life that was more than they yet knew.

Pretty grim stuff. The plot is simple. Two young men of “stateless” origin  are employed to paint the house of an old disabled man whose carer/companion is his nearing 50-year-old cousin, Martina. By the end of the story the old man has disappeared from view … we have a pretty good idea of what has happened to him and it ain’t pretty.

The story is perfectly set up. The two strange men who appear to know little about painting – and who we are told are somewhat like “gypsies” – have clearly been shown where the money of the house is kept. The woman, Martina, is (to be euphemistic) taken advantage of by the local butcher and in return receives some special meats. Aha, we think, here is a case of two con-men facing some easy pickings…but, this would clearly be too cliched for Trevor. They don’t steal the money and she is not so down-trodden as it seems. Trevor makes no judgement – just tells it like it is when life is hard and people make pragmatic decisions in order to survive.

And that’s all I’m going to say about this tight little story…except of course that it has inspired me more than ever to read a Trevor novel.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2009 5:17 am

    Thanks for this post. I printed out the story and read it on the tube journey home. Brilliant story. I loved the menacing undertone of it.

    • November 28, 2009 8:42 am

      Glad you liked it kimbofo. Menacing undertone is a good way to describe it… It’s a clever story isn’t it, the way it sets up our expectations. One of my internet bookgroups does a short story a month as well as a novel a month and I’m really enjoying reading short stories again.

  2. November 28, 2009 10:19 am

    Well, I’m now lusting after this two-volume, beautifully packaged William Trevor collected stories set

    http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780140957860,00.html#synopsis

  3. November 28, 2009 11:22 am

    Oh no, you are going to make me lust too! That looks great. (I just started reading Ishiguro’s latest book Nocturnes – his first real foray into short stories I think – it’s lovely so far… but then I’m a huge Ishiguro fan).

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