Another Christmas | William Trevor #ALiteraryChristmas

You always looked back, she thought. You looked back at other years, other Christmas cards arriving, the children younger.

I’m sneaking my first William Trevor story in a few days early to coincide with my one and only A Literary Christmas entry for 2022. Those who have followed my previous A Literary Christmas stories, will know that the short stories I find do not necessarily focus on happy times or holiday cheer. Pre-revolutionary Russian poverty, being held up by bush rangers and the loss of innocence have been some of the more recent offerings. This year I turn to IRA bombings and the Northern Ireland conflict.

First published on the 27 December 1975 in The Spectator (hence publication date of this post today) Another Christmas is a story that showcases William Trevor’s mastery of the short story form. He takes his time to bring us to the crux of the matter, slowly building a picture of an ordinary, everyday Irish couple, now living in the UK with their growing family. It is only towards the end that we see what Trevor was intending to do all along.

He carefully controls the pace, withholding vital information until it is really needed.

We first meet Norah and Dermot decorating their living room in preparation for Christmas. As they do so, Norah in particular reminisces about previous Christmases when the children were younger – the early years of their marriage back in Waterford, and the more recent times in Fulham, London.

Mr Joyce is their landlord in Fulham. Over time he became their friend as they watched him ‘watched becoming elderly‘. He would spend Friday evenings with them and every Christmas Day too. But this year Norah believes he won’t come.

“He won’t come here, dear.”

It had to be said: it was no good just pretending, laying a place for the old man on an assumption that had no basis to it. Mr Joyce would not come because Mr Joyce, last August, had ceased to visit them. Every Friday night he used to come, for a cup of tea and a chat, to watch the nine o’clock news with them. Every Christmas Day he’d brought carefully chosen presents for the children, and chocolates and nuts and cigarettes. He’d given Patrick and Pearl a radio as a wedding present.

Trevor leaves us hanging with this until the final few paragraphs.

What has happened? Why the long absence? Why wouldn’t Mr Joyce come to Christmas? Norah and Dermot argue back and forth – Norah convinced he will not be coming and Dermot equally convinced that he will, despite his four months nonattendance.

Suddenly we see that Norah and Dermot have a lot of issues bubbling away beneath the surface, that a major disconnect exists between them centred around their Irish heritage.

Miserably she said, not wishing to say it: “It isn’t just another Christmas. It’s an awful kind of Christmas. It’s a Christmas to be ashamed on and you’re making it worse, Dermot,” Her lips were trembling in a way that was uncomfortable. If she tried to calm herself she’d become jittery instead, she might even begin to cry. Mr Joyce had been generous and tactful, she said loudly. It made no difference to Mr Joyce that they were Irish people, that their children went to school with the children of IRA men. Yet his generosity and his tact had been thrown back in his face. Everyone knew that the Catholics in the North had suffered, that generations of injustice had been twisted into the shape of a cause. But you couldn’t say it to an old man who had hardly been outside Fulham in his life. You couldn’t say it because when you did it sounded like an excuse for murder.

Trevor does not judge either Norah or Dermot (or Mr Joyce). With kindness and compassion he shows us how they both feel.

On the Booker Prize website, I found a lovely interview with Elizabeth Strout detailing her admiration for William Trevor. She said,

These are the things I learned from him: Voice. Class. Details. Place. And the fact that one can be – perhaps should be – compassionate to all the characters one writes about. 

William Trevor’s writerly voice is a quiet one. It almost steps back, so that the reader is in the story, or novel, immediately; he calls no attention to himself.

…In his stories, Trevor is even more spare. And this is when I became really aware of his sentences, and how they hold only the details necessary for the reader, and nothing more.

Elizabeth Strout on William Trevor | 26 September 2022

This little dipping of my toes into the water moment with Trevor, has one, reminded me how much I also admire and love his stories and two, has got me all excited about spending a whole year with his short stories thanks to Cathy and Kim’s A Year With William Trevor in 2023.

The Spectator link to this story above also has two small black & white illustrations from Richard Wilson. Another Christmas was first collected in Lovers of Their Time and Other Stories (1978).

  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

13 thoughts on “Another Christmas | William Trevor #ALiteraryChristmas

  1. I still cannot decide if I will join the W. Trevor Reading Challenge.
    I love all thing Irish…but have some books planned for
    #ReadingIrelandMonth23 bur nothing by Trevor is on the list.
    We’ll see if I can find some of his stories.
    I will follow your reviews of the Trevor “gems” you find!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m just reading some of the short stories as I can fit them in. I have his entire short story collection in 2 volumes (minus the last ones published after his death) so just looking for a good excuse to read (reread) some of them.

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  2. You have an interesting approach to a Literary Christmas 😁 But this seems to be a powerful story. I have not read this author but will get to it soon! Thank You for a great review.

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    1. I tend to move between bah humbug at Christmas time and sentimental OTT smultz, but my reading usually tends towards the bah humbug side. I also read a book called Everything Feels Like the End of the World over the holiday period 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We let so many people ‘slide’, because they’re old or ignorant or ‘apolitical’, but it doesn’t alter the fact that Anglos everywhere live in a system enriched by colonisation – of Ireland, of India, of Africa, of Australia.

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    1. We ended up in a discussion with someone during the Christmas period who had very different points of view (about pretty much everything) that we tried to debate for a while, but when you have someone trying to tell you that white people are now the minority in Australia, you realise that nothing you say or do will get through.
      Even pulling up the 2021 census data was not enough.
      They were convinced they were right and that we were blind to what was really going on. In the end it wasn’t so much a matter of letting them slide as cutting them loose!
      I was astounded though that a university educated white person was completely unable to acknowledge their privilege.

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  4. Pingback: 2022 | The Books

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