William Trevor dies

William Trevor dies

Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer Sir William Trevor has died, aged 88.

Trevor passed away on Sunday night (20th November). He is survived by his wife Jane and their two sons, Patrick and Dominic.

Born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland, in 1928, Trevor was a history graduate from Trinity College, Dublin, and went on to write over 15 novels. He won the Whitbread Prize three times - first for The Children of Dynmouth (1976, Penguin), then for Fools of Fortune (1983, Penguin) and Felicia's Journey (1994, Penguin) - and was short-listed for the Booker Prize four times, most recently with The Story of Lucy Gault (Penguin) in 2002, which was a favourite for the prize but lost out to The Life of Pi (Canongate). 

He contributed stories to the New Yorker for many years and, according to his publisher Penguin, had a firm belief that the short story was as great an art form as the novel. Collected Stories was published with Viking in two volumes in 2009, including short stories "The Ballroom of Romance", "Kathleen’s Field" and "Cheating at Canasta". The stories were described by a Penguin spokesperson as "among the greatest stories of the last half-century, drawing comparison with the earlier masters of the form, Chekhov, Maupassant and Joyce".

Tony Lacey, Trevor’s editor at Penguin of many years, called him "the kindest and most courteous of men" as well as "a master" of literature.

He told The Bookseller: "Ireland and Britain - the English language - have lost a great writer. Unusually he was a master of two quite distinct genres, the novel and the short story, and he was producing masterful work in both of them into his last decade. As the most modest of men, he would have hated this of course, as he hated discussing his work too. He preferred talking about rugby or other novelists. But the self-effacement concealed a fierce writerly precision and determination. He was the kindest and most courteous of men, and funny too. When telling me that he thought he had one more book in him, he said with a twinkle in his eye. 'You'll love the title: Last Stories'."

Penguin's spokesperson added: "A modest and private man, Trevor disliked talking about his books and abhorred any personal publicity, believing that the work should stand for itself. He lived for many years in a secluded house in Devon, visiting Ireland frequently, taking walking holidays in Italy, and pursuing his passions of gardening and watching sport – especially rugby, cricket and tennis. But it was writing that truly absorbed him."

Trevor lived in Devon since the 1950s, after moving to England with his wife Jane Ryan who he met at university. First a sculptor, then a copywriter, he only took up writing in earnest aged 32 after taking a full-time job at a London advertising agency. In interview with the Paris Review, at almost 60 years of age, he commented on life at the agency, "If I was writing, for instance, four lines about paint, they wouldn’t expect to see any copy for two days. I couldn’t take that seriously so I began to write stories."

His first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, which he subsequently refused to have republished, came out in 1958. In later years he chose to describe The Old Boys, which was published in 1964 and went on to win the Hawthornden Prize for Literature, as his "first serious" novel. Trevor turned his attention to his native Ireland in later years, exploring the tensions between the fading Anglo-Irish gentry and their Catholic neighbours, about loyalty and betrayal, loss and belonging, often through multiple viewpoints.

Trevor was awarded an honorary CBE in 1977 and in 2002 an honorary knighthood for his services to literature.

In September 2015, he was elected Saoi of Aosdána - an honour previously bestowed on writers such as Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney - during which the president of Ireland, President Michael D Higgins, called Trevor "a writer of world renown, of great distinction, of towering achievements, of elegance and grace".

Following his death, president Higgins said: "It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of William Trevor, the distinguished novelist, playwright, sculptor and former teacher. The work of William Trevor was widely regarded by his peers and critics as being among the finest literary works produced in Ireland. He received critical acclaim at home and abroad, and it was a great privilege for me to be able to bestow on him the honour of Saoi of Aosdána, a recognition from his peers, and a title given to those who have made a singular and enduring contribution to the creative arts. He was a writer of elegance, with words and themes."

Frances Gertler, head of web content at Foyles, said: "He was a force to be reckoned with in Irish literature over many years, and, unusually, both his stories and his novels have been as popular with readers as with the critics. As understated in life as in his writing, he will be much missed."

Chair of the Arts Council, Sheila Pratschke, likewise hailed Trevor "a writer of extraordinary gifts and achievement".

A novelist, playwright and, perhaps most famously, a short story writer, Trevor was a true master of his craft, and has profoundly influenced a generation of writers, in Ireland and abroad," she added. "He was a writer of sensitivity, grace and insight, and leaves behind a deep and essential legacy of work." 

Writers including John Banville, Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Joseph O’Connor, Kevin Barry,Yiyun Li, John Boyne, Donal Ryan, Roddy Doyle saluted the late author in a series of tributes published by the Irish Times. 

Boyne said Trevor’s books helped him to "remember why fiction matters”, while Banville said "his death is a heavy loss to Irish letters and to world literature.” 

Barry praised the example he set for other writers: "I admire any writer who persists in making short fictions throughout his career. It’s not always the most glamorous or most rewarding sector, but it is one of the most difficult and impenetrable forms: it takes a lifetime’s work to get close to its mysteries, and he gave it that. Also, he always carried himself with immense dignity, and thus was an example to the rest of us."

Enright added Trevor was "a complete gentleman and full of mischief”.

"I found him to be an irresistible mix of good manners and badness, in the Irish sense of the word – there was little that escaped him,” she recalled. "His stories are formally beautiful and, at the same time, interested in the smallness of human lives. He was, as a writer, watchful, unsentimental, alert to frailty and malice. A master craftsman, he was, above all, interested in loneliness, particularly the loneliness found between social classes. In the Irish stories especially, he caught the last of a fading ascendancy and set it, in a kind of twilight, on the page.”