Other People’s Worlds, by William Trevor
9/10, a lovely, sad story of several unfortunate people brought together by another unfortunate.
William Trevor specializes in writing Irish stories, which are not only stories that take place in Ireland, but stories in which sad things happen to good people in beautiful, lyrical ways. His books (the two I’ve read) stand out in that they chronicle events that would be fairly dramatic, if summarized, but they happen in the least dramatic way possible. There is no lingering over the moment when the earth-shattering telegram arrives, no attention paid to the flood of emotions in the wake of betrayal. He chronicles lives rather than events, seeking to show how each of the things that happen to a person make up that person’s character. The Story of Lucy Gault (previously reviewed) focused on the lives of Lucy and her parents; in Other People’s Worlds, he spreads a wider net.
Julia is the nominal heroine of the story, excited over her engagement to Francis, a young actor she recently met. Trevor switches points of view throughout the book, and immediately after we experience Julia’s happiness, we see from Francis’s point of view that he’s happy as well, but for a different reason. It isn’t as simple as a scheme to steal Julia’s land or money; he really is happy to be with her, but he’s happier to be playing the role of the groom. As the story progresses, we are introduced to Doris, a previous girlfriend of Francis, and her (and his) daughter, ironically named Joy.
The unfolding of the wedding, the honeymoon, and, in larger part, the aftermath, form an intricate braid of characters. Julia, Francis, and Doris find their lives intertwined, with Doris’s mental health particularly suffering, and it is Julia’s quiet acceptance of her fate and attempt to understand and help others that carries us through the book. Although Francis does terrible things, Trevor makes him nearly a sympathetic character, so that by the end of the book, you’re left with the overwhelming sense of feeling sorry for everyone involved, and admiring the steady Julia for making the best of a bad situation.
Trevor writes characters and settings beautifully, and even though the book is fairly languidly paced, there’s never a drop in interest. You can see where most of the events are going, but he sneaks a few surprises up on you in the way P.G. Wodehouse can do (though to tragic rather than comic effect), or Kazuo Ishiguro. Above all, this is a book about people, and if you like meeting flawed, sad people, do not miss this book.