Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

William Trevor’s 1976 novel paints a squalid picture of contemporary British life.

Dynmouth is a quaint seaside town featuring lace windowed tea shops, community fetes, a  church and a local cinema. On the surface its a pretty place where the residents derive a certain amount of contentment from their uneventful yet sturdy lives. Underneath, however, its a hotbed of barely contained scandal, misery and sexual repression. If Freud had visited the town he would have been kept busy with at least a dozen case studies. There are unhappy marriages, wives driven mad, secretly gay husbands, adultery, you name it. Added to this the populace of Dynmouth stew in a rancid media environment of trashy films, TV game shows and newspaper reports featuring horrid and perverted murders. The atmosphere is so fetid that the foul fumes almost rise off the page.

The character who personifies all that is wrong with Dynmouth, a character almost spewed up by the town, is 15-year-old Timothy Gedge. He spends his days roaming Dynmouth spying on its residents. He knows everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets and doesn’t mind telling what he knows with a breezy, almost cruel, nonchalance, often upsetting marriages and relationships with his tactless disclosures. Timothy Gedge is a creepy character, one who almost revels in what he knows. His sole ambition, besides getting a job at the local sandpaper factory, is to put on a pantomime at the town’s talent contest, to be held at its annual fete. In a macabre presentation he has planned, he intends to show his side of the town.

Timothy may be a dark character, but at times he can be funny and ironic as he taunts the townspeople with their hypocrisies. He’s like a mixture of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and the child killer Rhoda Penmark in William March’s 1954 novel, The Bad Seed. His lack of empathy is almost psychopathic. Even though Timothy is not a killer, he enjoys going to funerals and thinks the best place for the residents of Dynmouth is “in a coffin”. He leaves a chilly feeling in the reader that in another ten years he could be found guilty of any number of heinous crimes.

The Children of Dynmouth is a disturbing and unsettling portrait of contemporary suburban life, quite similar in theme to David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet. The book shows middle class strivings for respectability and convention to hide a festering wound of perversion, repression and misery.

The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor. Published by Penguin. ISBN: 9780241971833 RRP: $22.99

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