I have not encountered so unpleasant and so believable a fictional adolescent as Timothy Gedge in William Trevor's novel, "The Children of Dynmouth." Timothy is a 15-year-old voyeur, fantasizing liar, and blackmailer who insinuates himself, by "mentioning" small facts, into the lives of the Dasses, the Abigails, the Feathertons, Miss Lavant, the children Kate and Stephen, and Mr. Plant.
Dynmouth is a seaside town on the Dorset coast which shelters the usual "good" citizens, each with his own small eccentricity. Miss Lavant lives alone, preparing meals for herself and the town's doctor whom she loves from afar but who is not aware of her. Old Mrs. Trimm believes she has borne a son who is the New Jesus Christ. Commander Abigail and his wife have lived for 36 years without consummating their marriage. The Dasses only son, to whom they devoted their lives, turned on them in an hour and ruined their hopes.
At the annual Easter fete, Timothy Gedge wants to perform his act in the "Spot the Talent" competition. It consists of a gruesome re-creation of the murder of three brides. His method is to blackmail 12-year-old Stephen in order to get his mother's bridal dress, and others for other necessary props. Timothy's spying, eavesdropping and Peeping Tom activities permit the richness of Trevor's plot to be revealed, for we come to believe that not everything he "mentions" is fantasy. As uneasy as we are in the presence of the unsavory Timothy, we are even more uncomfortable with the possibilities for truth he suggests so slyly.
The appeal of Trevor's novel (and for me it has a very strong appeal) lies in the ambiguity of Timothy's nature, his corrupt character which runs parallel, often, to the natures of the villagers he so persistently visits in order to blackmail. We dislike him for this, along with the villagers; we want to shut the book on him in the same way as the Dasses and the Abigails shut their doors on him. Yet we don't, because he is our eye and ear and we want to know what he knows or thinks he knows or is making up, viciously.
We cannot shut him out and we go on listening. His movement through the village is the progress of an invidious narrator whose intention attracts to it corruption, wrong-doing, guilt, hidden sin. He is repugnant but then, so are his victims, on the whole a sorry lot who rely on ignorance and silence to preserve their secrets: the Commander's love for little boys, Stephen's father's affection for another woman. Timothy's fantasies are corrupting, his imagination powerful and destructive and the truth is often closer to his imaginings than we are happy to admit.
So we have the village, at Easter, the unlovely Timothy Gedge, his victims, his aborted act in the talent contest, and another finely grained, perfectly written William Trevor fiction. It is in a class with his earlier "Elizabeth Alone" and his more recent collection of first-rate short stories, "Angels at the Ritz." American readers owe it to themselves to become acquainted with this Irishman's sensitive and engrossing narratives.