Saturday, 21 February 2009

REVIEW: CHEATING AT CANASTA

Last year two books roused that oft-dormant thrill elicited from reading storytelling at its brilliant best. This novel was one; the latest collection of short stories by William Trevor the other. I’d heard of Trevor – a friend had been pushing Lucy Gault onto me for ages, but – whether a faint memory of playing canasta with my grandfather as a child inspired it or not – I began with this collection. Over the next six months I read (virtually) everything else he’s written, such was the impact of these stories. Indeed, the opener, The Dressmaker’s Child, is one the most powerful I’ve read, but I can think of few collections where one or two stories aren’t somewhat mediocre, propping up the gems around them. And yet each story in Cheating at Canasta is masterful.

This should come as little surprise. Trevor is regarded by many as the greatest living short story writer, a claim I find hard to dispute. His work inevitably draws comparisons with Chekhov, as well as Hemmingway and Joyce. Like Chekhov, Trevor describes ordinary, often bleak worlds populated by everyday characters whose lives are transformed by quiet, smouldering epiphanies. The stories linger in the mind, indeed haunt, long after reading, a quality that, for me, alludes to excellence. I have no idea if the term exists, I presume it must, but on the rare occasion I now read beautiful, sublime prose - exceptional storytelling that captures perfectly the nuances and poetry of human behaviour - I refer to it as Trevorian.

The Times had it spot on: ‘Stories suffused with radiant and effortless majesty; a comprehensive ease of speaking about spaces in the human heart and mind that remains out of reach for most writers.’

3 comments:

Tania Hershman said...

I agree completely. I blogged a few years ago about the experience of reading Bravado, a story of his, in the New Yorker. I think it's in Cheating at Canasta. What he can do... it's astonishing.

TOM J VOWLER said...

I remember, Tania, an overwhelming excitement after reading this collection, about writing and what it can achieve.

Sarah Salway said...

I love this collection too, Tom. It has real heart, but it's the humour that gets me.