Julian Barnes on William Trevor's final stories – a master of the short formJulian Barnes
Saturday 19 May 2018
Yet the word “choice” implies agency. Trevor’s characters rarely choose what happens to them; life chooses for them. What they want, or feel they want, does not govern what they get – or only for a brief, illusory time. After that they are delivered back into emotional marginality, glancing non-relationships and the dubious certitudes of memory. There are also slippages of identity and function to be endured. A picture restorer struck by bouts of amnesia wanders haltingly through his own city; a pair of itinerant “Polish painters” turn out to be something else entirely; a daughter, growing up with a father, assuming her absent mother to be dead, turns out to have a different origin story. Trevor’s characters are often lone, or alone, or lonely, even – especially – if they are in a relationship. And there are doubts and ambiguities at every turn. Did they go to bed together or not? Was it accident or suicide? Where does fault and responsibility actually lie? Trevor’s fiction is full of precise evasions – and evasive precisions. As VS Pritchett wrote of Chekhov, he “accepts all contradictions”.