Two lives of William Trevor
In Two Lives William Trevor offers two stories: Reading Turgenev and My House In Umbria. However, they are not mere stories and read like substantial novels. Both have women as central characters. Reading Turgenev features Mary Louise Dallon, an Irish Protestant whose parents support her decision to marry, though on the surface at least the match may be less than perfect. In My House in Umbria, someone calling herself Emily Delahunty recounts her proven personal story against the backdrop of totally unpredictable, life-changing events for everyone she invites into her home. In both stories, William Trevor examines a gap that could exist between lived reality, remembered reality, and imagined reality. Writers create seemingly fictional worlds that, when embraced by characters who are also fictional, come closer to the desired realities much closer than to reality itself.
Mary Louise Dallon is a young woman in an almost frighteningly normal Irish Protestant home. There are moviegoers and suitors of various ages and types, and plays that will always be local and probably predictable. Predictable, that is, until someone does something quite unexpected. Mary Louise Dallon does the unexpected. Turgenev’s reading thus examines the consequences, predictable and not, of this deviation from the expected norm. And, of course, the Turgenev you read is itself fiction. But, for Mary Louise, her imagined world becomes perhaps more important than the strange reality that surrounds her. People who share his life ignore reality or, when he does not follow his prejudice, they recreate it almost as if it were their own fiction. The effect on Mary Louise is devastating, or perhaps the consequences were inevitable, the product of her own misinterpretations or misunderstandings of reality. As a result, Reading Turgenev becomes an almost viscerally moving experience, where actual violence is inflicted on the central character without a threatening finger being raised. Everything is done with words. And, finally, those words are themselves a fiction.
My House In Umbria features a writer known as Emily Delahunty. The name may be unlikely. Perhaps much of what she tells about herself is of the same kind. He has been here and there: Idaho, Africa, Umbria, English cities. She has suffered parental confusion and probably abuse, has been exploited in the US, and has been in business in Africa. But of course, she is also a creator of romantic fiction, perhaps sentimental. A seemingly random event provokes equally chance encounters when people who seem to need each other congregate at Emily’s house in Umbria. At all times he confuses the real facts with those of his own fiction. You cannot deny reality, but it can also be created. She is clearly presenting to others her own version of reality that is far from the framework of a confident older woman that she throws herself into. Which version of reality will elicit faith?
Throughout William Trevor’s book, the real joy is the author’s resplendent prose. Surprising. Decorate, twist, twist and celebrate. These fictional characters become completely real. Absolutely credible, despite his propensity for living in imaginary worlds. The overall concept is impressive. The detail is diabolical, the consequences of these seemingly real fictions.