I always believe in giving an author a second chance, so after a failed attempt at reading William Trevor’s Love and Summer a few years ago, I have still been interested in trying more of his work. As March is Reading Ireland Month (hosted by Cathy and Niall) and Trevor is an Irish author, this seemed a good time to give another of his books a try.
Published in 1976, The Children of Dynmouth is set in a typical English seaside town full of ordinary people leading ordinary lives – at least on the surface. Fifteen-year-old Timothy Gedge, who wanders the streets of Dynmouth watching and listening, knows what is really going on behind closed doors and inside people’s heads…and he’s not afraid to use that information to his own advantage. As family scandals, hidden passions and secret affairs are brought to light, the adults and children of Dynmouth begin to wonder what Timothy’s motives really are.
Timothy Gedge is a sinister creation, at the heart of all the tension in Dynmouth, although it’s never quite clear whether or not he is fully aware of the trouble he is causing and the inappropriateness of his actions. The first real indication that something is badly wrong comes when we learn that he is planning to enter the annual Spot the Talent contest with a gruesome ‘comedy act’ which no decent person could possibly find funny. When several obstacles are placed in the way of his act – the lack of a curtain for the stage, for example, and the need for a man’s suit and a wedding dress – Timothy goes to great lengths to get what he wants, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.
With no father in his life and a mother who neglects him, Timothy has been left to fend for himself and has grown up to be a lonely, awkward teenager facing the usual fate of Dynmouth’s young men: a lifetime spent working in the town’s sandpaper factory. The people of Dynmouth can’t get away from him as he tries to connect with them in any way he can; he is everywhere they turn, listening to private conversations, staring through windows, inviting himself into their homes, asking questions, hiding in the shadows and lurking in the background at funerals. Nobody likes him and nobody wants him there, but as a representation of all that is wrong with society, he can be seen as everybody’s responsibility and everybody’s problem.
Timothy is an unsettling character – and this is an unsettling novel. It’s a short book at under 200 pages, but long enough for the author to build up a complete portrait of life in a small community in 1970s England, to introduce us to the people who live there, and to add undercurrents of danger and foreboding, so that by the end of the novel we go away with a very different impression of Dynmouth than we had at the beginning.
The Children of Dynmouth is a disturbing but thought-provoking book and one which left me with a lot to think about after I turned the final page. I would like to read more by William Trevor, so your recommendations are welcome. I’m prepared to try Love and Summer again too, as I think I was probably just in the wrong mood for it the first time.