Viking, £16 99

A Bit on the Side, by William Trevor

Elegiac stories of dignity and renunciation

William Trevor is a master of the nuanced episode and the fraught encounter. Since his first collection of stories,
The Day We Got Drunk on Cake (1967), he has perfected a narrative manner in which gravity and decorum coexist with sometimes shocking occurrences, and a faintly comic undertone enlivens the grimmest details.

William Trevor is a master of the nuanced episode and the fraught encounter. Since his first collection of stories, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake (1967), he has perfected a narrative manner in which gravity and decorum coexist with sometimes shocking occurrences, and a faintly comic undertone enlivens the grimmest details.

This is true of his novels no less than his stories; but the shorter fiction, you might say, makes an even more felicitous outlet for Trevor's elliptical virtuosity. This new collection has 12 luminous stories, each distinctive in atmosphere and resonant in implication.

In a 1988 interview, Trevor ruefully attributed his celebrity in Ireland to a single story, "The Ballroom of Romance", in which an ageing country girl decides to settle for what's available: marriage to an uncouth bachelor rather than unending spinsterhood. A Bit on the Side begins with "Sitting With the Dead", in which the ending of a similar alliance is envisaged: bleak years, then a death in a farmhouse bedroom, after which comes an incursion by a couple of well-meaning Catholic women whose self-appointed task is to comfort the dying and the bereaved.

Some truths are enunciated during the dispensing of tea and barmbrack, and a measure of dignity retained. That quality, indeed, has become a powerful concern of Trevor's: the wresting of dignity, of sustaining composure, from the most unpromising of circumstances.

In these stories, as in their predecessors, the emphasis tends to fall on the beneficial effects of restraint and renunciation: the refusal of a legacy, the non-fulfillment of a purpose, the ending of an affair. In the title story, a man in the throes of a romantic liaison cannot bear the vulgar slant he watches others impose on it.

West-of-Ireland Fina, in "Big Bucks", gradually relinquishes the figment of a future for herself and John Michael, a one-time fisherman, in an imaginary America. Throughout this collection, you get a sense of disruption of one sort or another, mellowed by a reconditioning consciousness.

The action of "Traditions" takes place in a boys' school and concerns the clandestine service performed each year for a chosen pupil by a serving maid. In "The Dancing Master's Music", a "big house" story, the lowest scullery maid proves unusually susceptible to the power of music. Again, time passes. Nothing happens, except the erosion of a way of life, change and decay.

To an extent, the comic element which was such a feature of Trevor's earlier work has given way to an elegiac overtone, although an idiosyncrasy of diction keeps things buoyant. Six of these 12 stories are set in Ireland, a country that can claim William Trevor, even though most of his life has been passed elsewhere. Irish or English, it makes no odds, as he goes on quietly and enticingly extending the range of the genre.

Patricia Craig's life of Brian Moore is published in Bloomsbury paperback

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little