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One of the greatest Irish writers of his time, William Trevor

William Trevor: A sculptor of words

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One of the greatest Irish writers of his time, William Trevor

“At the time as a child you just trundled along happily – or in my case, sometimes unhappily because of my parents’ quarrels and the difficulties they had – and if you put it all together it’s a huge tapestry that’s there in the memory. You will always go back to it.”

Maybe it is Trevor’s gently formal style – don’t be deceived that his prose can’t pack a punch – but it often feels like he writes with a sort of nostalgia, particularly in his Irish dramas. He’s more provincial than urban, more country than city. One of his most memorable short stories, “The Ballroom of Romance,” was beautifully adapted for RTE (Irish television) by director Pat O’Connor, evoking the simplicity and strictures of a bygone age in a remote country dance hall. Is it easier to write about the past?

“No, it’s not,” he replies firmly. “One would be lost without the present. The present is an area, oddly enough, I prefer. I go back to the past quite often, but Ireland today has changed. That’s fascinating. And at such a tremendously speedy rate – I’m sure my father never saw the world in the way I have been able to. And I’m very lucky to be given that opportunity.

“I visit Ireland too often not to be used to the ‘new Ireland.’ It’s quite extraordinary and all so different to my childhood. Those changes have been absorbed, but beneath them, with that absorption there are so many faces, names, traits that ring a bell immediately. Superficially, yes, things have changed hugely, but I don’t think a lot has really changed. And the recession now makes it feel like a returning to the 1950’s. There’s still that strange and odd Irish friendliness, something that’s unique the world over.”

“Love and Summer” has been nominated for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. On four previous occasions in the past 39 years he has been shortlisted (“Mrs. Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel,” “The Children of Dynmouth,” “Reading Turgenev” and “The Story of Lucy Gault”) but never won the Booker. With his literary reputation firmly established and his international standing assured, the 2009 destination of this elusive prize will not fret him unduly.

“You never want to belittle prizes because they might stop giving them,” he quips wryly, recalling his days as a young sculptor in Dublin when he shared top prize for the International Year of the Political Prisoner art competition in 1952. The award enabled him to continue sculpture and encouraged him to believe he was on the right track. That’s quite a while ago, but the memory of morale-boosting recognition has not left him.

Soon afterwards he traded his choice of raw material and has picked up numerous literary accolades along the way. “It’s like giving a sweet to a child,” he suggests with the sort of avuncular wisdom you might expect. Baubles can be very welcome, but in the end it’s all about the work. “Prizes are fine but they aren’t quite as important as they might seem to be.”

“Love and Summer” is published by Viking, $25.95

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