by Dolores MacKenna. Dublin: New Island Books, 1999; Chester Springs, Pennsylvania: Dufour Editions, 1999. 250 pages. $18.95 paper.
As William Trevor's long and lustrous writing career moves into its final stages (he's in his mid-70s, though still very productive), certain intriguing questions about him emerge: Is Trevor foremost a novelist who also happens to write short stories, or is he a short-story writer who expands story material into novels? Should he be considered a British writer whose best work is about English life, or do his Irish stories and novels place him primarily in the tradition of Joyce and others Irish writers? Is his view of life overwhelmingly bleak and despairing, or does his fiction ultimately evoke a sense of hope? Dolores MacKenna's fine study of Trevor offers both explicit and implicit answers to these and other questions about the writer.
Two of MacKenna's main points are that Trevor is a moralist whose best work is about the nature of evil, guilt and madness, and that his perspective is that of an outsider, an "all-seeing observer of people." Trevor's particular interest in evil, MacKenna shows, is not so much its heinous acts as its ordinariness: the way in which it is perpetrated by ordinary people and "often emanates from circumstances in which the human need for love has been either unfulfilled or violated." She explores this theme in a range of stories and novels, including "Miss Smith," "Mrs Acland's Ghosts," "The Raising of Elvira Tremlett," "Lost Ground," Miss Gomez and the Brethren, The Children of Dynmouth, Felicia's Journey, and Death in Summer.
MacKenna is not the first critic to show through formal analysis that Trevor's...