The Old Boys by William Trevor

William Trevor is a writer I’ve read and returned to since I was eighteen. He died last year after a long and illustrious career. This work was his first major novel, though he is perhaps best known as a short story writer. The Old Boys introduces us to the lives of a school committee consisting of a group of men in their seventies. The men have very different memories of their time in the school and this motivates them in their interactions with other members. Prominent among them is Jaraby who sets his sights on becoming their president. Unbeknownst to him, Nox who suffered indignities as his junior back in school has set out to oppose his presidency. So follows various machinations on the Jaraby/Nox sides in the quest for power and attempts to sabotage Jaraby’s aspirations. The novel is written in blackly comic style and offers much in the comedy of misunderstanding. Much of the dialogue is comprised of the exchanges between Mr and Mrs Jaraby who constantly bicker. Their tone is excessively formal despite the antagonism between them and has more than a hint of the absurd in it. Interspersed throughout their dialogues are descriptions of their monstrous cat, Monmouth who Mrs Jaraby suggests the zoo might take an interest in and acts as a symbol for the menace that lies just below the surface of all the action in the novel. I really enjoyed this novel. It’s style is immediately engaging and makes many other novels seem pedestrian in comparison. Although the early work of Trevor may seem to centre around merely bizarre characters, you sense that Trevor, even for the most villainous characters, affords them a rounded portraiture. Although respected by other writers such as Yiyun Li, Jhunpa Lahiri and John Bnaville, as critic Eileen Battersby noted on his death, Trevor has been forgotten to come extent by the general public, something I’d like to see reversed. His early style was influenced by Joyce and Dickens and I would place him alongside those writers in terms of stature.

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