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Authors: William Trevor

The Children Of Dynmouth


The Children of Dynmouth

William Trevor was born in 1928 in Mitchelstown, County Cork, and spent his childhood in provincial Ireland. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, before moving to England in 1953. He worked as a sculptor, as a teacher and, briefly, in advertising before becoming a full-time writer. His first novel,
A Standard of Behaviour
, was published in 1958. His subsequent novels have won many prizes, including
The Old Boys
(Hawthornden Prize),
Fools of Fortune
(Whitbread Fiction Award),
The Silence in the Garden
Yorkshire Post
Book of the Year Award) and
Felicia’s Journey
(Whitbread Book of the Year Award), and he has also been shortlisted four times for the Booker Prize. His most recent novel is
Love and Summer
. Trevor is also a master short-story writer, acclaimed as ‘the greatest living writer’ of the form by John Banville. His
Collected Stories
were published in two volumes by Viking Penguin in 2009.

William Trevor was awarded the prestigious David Cohen British Literature Prize in 1999, and received an honorary knight-hood in 2002 in recognition of his services to literature. He has lived in Devon for many years.

The Children of Dynmouth
, published in 1976, was Trevor’s eighth novel. It won the Heinemann Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Roy Foster is Carroll Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Hertford College. His books include
Modern Ireland 1600–1972
The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland
, the two-volume authorized biography of W. B. Yeats (
The Apprentice Mage, 1865–1914
The Arch-Poet, 1915–1939
) and most recently
Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970–2000

The Children of Dynmouth




Published by the Penguin Group

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by The Bodley Head 1976

Published in Penguin Books 1979

Reissued with a new introduction in Penguin Books 2010

Copyright © William Trevor, 1976

Introduction copyright © Roy Foster, 2010

The moral right of the author and of the introducer has been asserted

All rights reserved

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book

ISBN: 978-0-14-196486-7


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12


The Children of Dynmouth
, first published in 1976, has something in common with William Trevor’s breakthrough 1964 novel,
The Old Boys
: the child-molesting Basil Jaraby from the earlier book, with his dyed hair and budgerigars, might well have retired to Dynmouth after a spell in jail. But by the mid-1970s, Trevor’s great short-story collections (
The Day We Got Drunk on Cake
The Ballroom of Romance
Angels at the Ritz
) had established him as supreme master of that form, and he was simultaneously crafting novels where eccentric interior worlds develop into visions of surreal and tragic intensity, as in
Miss Gomez and the Brethren
. A generation before Patrick McCabe and Irvine Welch,
The Children of Dynmouth
reveals Trevor at his most ruthless, macabre and
grand guignol

Timothy Gedge, the demonic fifteen-year-old who dominates the novel, smiles as he tells of the ‘terrible things’ he has seen in the underworld of outwardly respectable Dynmouth.

Still smiling, he spoke again. He’d witnessed all sorts, he said: the dead buried, kids from the primary school lifting rubbers out of W. H. Smith’s, Plant on the job with his mother, his legs as white as mutton-fat. He’d witnessed Rose-Ann and Len up to tricks on the hearth-rug, and others up to tricks in the wood behind the Youth Centre, kids of all ages, nine to thirteen, take your pick. He’d seen the Robson woman from the Post Office buying fish and chips in Phyl’s Phries with Slocombe from the Fine Fare off-licence, and Pym, the solicitor, being sick into the sea after a Rotary dinner in the Queen Victoria Hotel. He’d seen the Dynmouth Hards beating up the Pakistani from the steam laundry in a bus-shelter, and spraying
Blacks Out
on the back wall of the Essoldo. He’d seen them terrorizing Nurse Hackett, the midwife, swerving their motor-cycles in front of her blue Mini when she was trying to go about her duties at night-time. There was wife-swapping every Saturday night at parties on the new estate, Leaflands it was called, out on the London road. He’d looked in a window once and seen a man in Lace Street taking out his glass eye. He’d seen Slocombe and the Robson woman up on the golf-course. In Dynmouth and its neighbourhood he’d witnessed terrible things, he said.

Gedge’s creator can make us smile too, and laugh out loud, but unwillingly. The slow burn of Gedge’s intense fantasy, his obsession with becoming a celebrity stand-up comedian through re-creating the Brides in the Bath Murders for the Spot the Talent competition at the Dynmouth Fête, creates an inexorably mounting tension, as Gedge manipulates and blackmails his way in pursuit of his ill-omened stage props. In the process, Dynmouth is laid as bare as Dylan Thomas’s Llareggub. But the secrets and lies of an out-of-season English seaside town reveal an inner landscape at once more desolate and less sentimental than the little town lying under Milk Wood.

In his power and range, as in much else, Trevor resembles another displaced Irish writer from North County Cork, Elizabeth Bowen. Kate, another child of Dynmouth whose dreams will be wrecked by Gedge’s revelations, possesses all the fierceness and vulnerability of one of Bowen’s little girls; and Trevor matches Bowen’s mastery of elliptical dialogue, mixing formal evasions with slapdash slang. The grotesque larkiness of Gedge’s diction, as where he refers to Commander Abigail ‘homo-ing all over the joint’, lodges horribly in the mind of the reader as well as those of Gedge’s listeners. Trevor’s people, like Bowen’s, talk in tongues, and imagine futures that will not happen, in hallucinatory detail. Like Bowen, too, Trevor sees English middle-class life in south-coast watering places with the eye of an astonished outsider. There is an exoticism to their rituals and observances, jarred by garish splashes of colour. Though Trevor deals with quintessentially English mores, there is an Irish sensibility at work. The names of Dynmouth people proclaim a Saxon landscape (Gedge, Dass, Plant, Pyke, Droppy, Abigail, Blakey). But Timothy Gedge’s unholy wish for fame and notoriety is implanted by a fly-by-night student teacher, who lasts half a term in the local comprehensive, and he is called Brehon O’Hennessy.

‘Brehon’, in Old Irish, means a lawgiver to his clan (it was the name bestowed upon his son by Sean O’Casey, another Irish émigré writer who ended up in Devon). O’Hennessy tells his class, as he puffs on a joint, that they each contain the potential to be extraordinary, and to escape the dreary void of their lives. The pathos of Gedge’s self-discovery, when he briefly triumphs while dressed up as Queen Elizabeth I in the school charades, sets a fatal ball rolling. ‘
’, he is told, derives from ‘the chatter of a clown’; he will adopt this as his mode. Already a dedicated follower of funerals, he instinctively decides that his own
‘should incorporate the notion of death … reconciling death and comedy in a theatrical act’.

Gedge’s journey towards this act, through the wreckage of little lives, pulling out secret griefs, doubts, bereavements and hypocrisies, is by turns horribly funny and unbearably sad. Trevor charts it meticulously. No one better describes the sensation of slowly losing it under the influence of alcohol, and Gedge’s sherry binge at the Abigail dinner table is a comic tour de force; but what it precipitates is ruthlessly tragic. In its portrait of a diabolical force at work,
The Children of Dynmouth
recalls Muriel Spark’s
The Ballad of Peckham Rye
, and Spark’s writing bears close affinities to Trevor’s. But though the chronology of Trevor’s novel moves inexorably to a climax at Easter, and the champion eventually called to do battle with Gedge is the local vicar, there is little hope of a final redemption.

Repeatedly in the novel we are shown night falling on the town, as its people turn to sleep and dream; but the end of day does not confer eventual benediction, as in
Under Milk Wood
. Some kind of reparation is made at the end, but not by Gedge, who is left to project himself into a yet more baroque fantasy. Significantly, this concerns a secret conception and birth; another of Dynmouth’s deranged inhabitants, in fact, believes she is the mother of Jesus. The part played by religion in
The Children of Dynmouth
is reminiscent of
Miss Gomez
; it may provide a crutch, but it will not be a fiery chariot of deliverance. ‘What use’, the vicar asks himself, ‘were services that revealed the Crucifixion when there was Timothy Gedge walking about the place, a far better reminder of waste and destruction?’ If there are supernatural forces pulsing through this world, they are not benign. Kate uneasily remembers a ‘disturbed girl’ at her school who was able to levitate eight feet above the ground and had to be removed. ‘Adolescents often harboured poltergeists.’ The vicar’s wife, who sees things more clearly than most people, wonders at the end about the vast futures lying before children, ‘where their stories would be told, happy and unfortunate, ordinary and strange’. But nothing good will come of the story of Timothy Gedge.

There is another prophetic aspect of this novel, eerie in its own way: more than thirty years ago, Trevor anticipated ‘celebrity culture’ and its effect on the marginalized, the disaffected, the disenfranchised. The names of television programmes and ‘personalities’ –
Alias Smith and Jones
, Bruce Forsyth, Petula Clark, Benny Hill – hum on screens in the background, and speckle the text, along with more sinister tabloid fixtures such as Lord Lucan. It is they who promise the deliverance sketched by Brehon O’Hennessy. Gedge believes implicitly that Hughie Green will stay at the Queen Victoria Hotel, attend the Spot the Talent competition and make him a star (‘Only I heard of stranger things’). Trevor’s gift of conjuring up evil and obsession, and making them utterly convincing, is central to this consummate novel. But it is counterpointed with his extrasensory ability to isolate the grotesqueries of everyday fantasy, and the pathos of lives lived at second hand.

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