11th October 2018
I have just revisted a favourite novel, William Trevor's Death in Summer, and remembered all over again why I have often said that if I could only set one text for creative writing students, it would be this.
The plot is deceptively simple. You would try to tell it to a friend in a couple of sentences. And yet you would soon find yourself caught up in explaining the intricacies of the characters, and the places they inhabit, for like all of Trevor's novels this one is driven by character and setting.
Thaddeus Davenant's Quincunx House, its garden defined by five old cherry trees, is one of my favourite houses in fiction. Pettie, the young girl who comes to it for a job interview, is struck by its many beauties as by a lightning bolt, and her infatuation with it grips the reader and carries them to the end of the book.
As an example of a desire-driven narrative, Death in Summer is unsurpassed. What transpires is both heartbreaking and inevitable, and a tribute to William Trevor's artistry as a novelist.
It has been said of Trevor that no one better understands the quiet working of fate and time on an individual life. It is the formidable power of this 'quiet working' that beginning writers often overlook in favour of action, and plot points. But the question of what a character wants, what stops them getting it, and what they'll do about it, is the true driving force of all great drama.