Thursday, December 8, 2016

On reading William Trevor’s Memories of Youghal

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For previous installments of my analysis of William Trevor’s The Collected Stories, please see the side bar. That said, “Memories of Youghal” bears similarities to “Access to the Children” as Trevor explores the past, particularly regrets and loss. Playing out on a resort deck, an introspective private detective by the name of Quillian spills his life story to Miss Ticher while waiting for the couple he is following to finish a romantic tryst. Quillian talks aimlessly about hit past. He dabbles in his trips to Youghal, on black iron bars, and his abusive Aunt and Uncle, surrogate parents in place of Quillian’s own—both drowned in a tragic incident. Quillian is the classic case of a person swimming in a sea of regret. Compounding his predicament is his total lack of self-worth. He doesn’t know who he is or why he is that way and thus constantly dwells on the focal point of his existence: his parents’ death. This focus leads to constant wander and thus constant ponderous regret: “‘Would I be a different type of man if the parents lived?’” (51). Unable to ever know his parents, for the passed away when he was only five months old, he describes them as the parents and not his parents. There is abject space, a space that intrudes on the man’s life and infects each of his interactions throughout the text.

At first Miss Ticher struggles to both stand and tolerate the Quillian, loathing his false teeth bouncing around in his mouth, hating the ill-fitting clothing, and his general garrulous nature. As the time passes and Quillian details his long list of failures, her character turns inward and revealing an unmarried woman who had given her entire life to teaching, a life that also tingles with regrets. Childless and nearing retirement, Miss Ticher vacations with her lifelong friend Miss Grimshaw. In truth only Miss Grimshaw is happy (if she even is), in control, and looking to live the life she wants. Such a life includes embarrassing her friend and controlling her. As she grimaces over her friend’s morning drink with a stranger, she plans out the elaborate teacher’s lounge embarrassment to come. Yet, this haughty victory is never fulfilled and will not be, for Miss Grimshaw observes a character change in her friend. Lacking the disinterest that existed early on in the conversation, by the end, Miss Ticher notes “‘How cruel the world is’” (55). Life does not unfold according to plan. Humans cannot and do not have a choice in every event that happens before them. There will be a break from Miss Grimshaw and perhaps even a finger point of blame for the chain of events in her life.

Closing their conversation, Miss Ticher notes: “‘I’m sorry,’ Miss Ticher said quietly. ‘I’m sorry your parents were drowned. I’m sorry you don’t like the work you do’”(53). This consolation digs into the crux of the problem: despite his past, despite her past, they cannot change the truth. Nor can the woman cheating on her husband who Quillian is following around for the weekend. Facts are facts, the past is the past, and Trevor cements these facts with each passing word.

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