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William Trevor, Fools of Fortune

Fools of Fortune is yet another lovely novel by William Trevor, one which addresses his familiar theme of a sudden, violent act which reverberates through the decades, affecting the survivors in various ways but leaving them all quite changed people. In this sense it reminded me of Trevor's excellent The Story of Lucy Gault, although in that novel the title protagonist is changed for the better, developing deep empathy for her social lessers and reaching out to those in need, while Fools of Fortune's protagonist Willie Quinton instead withdraws into exile which is both physical and emotional.

The story is told against the vivid backdrop of the Troubles, as Ireland struggles for independence from England. The Quintons are somewhat of an anomoly, Anglo-Irish gentry who don't quite fit on either side of the conflict - to the Irish partisans they're emblematic of the hated English monarchy (in fact, several Quinton wives through the centuries come from the same aristocratic Dorset family), but to the English they are the enemy, given their sympathies for the Irish republican cause. The family suffers horribly from a murderous act by a band of English soldiers which remains unrevenged by the family's Irish neighbors, and this non-revenge drives the already grief-stricken matriarch (Willie's mother) into even deeper despair as she believes her family has been shunned by Irish society. (This perceived distance is heightened even further by the fact that the Quintons are Protestant, versus the newly-ascendent Catholic majority which comes into power.) Willie, ravaged by guilt, later finds himself compelled to enact the revenge on his own, from which he sees exile as the only viable outcome.

Fools of Fortune is a beautifully written and masterfully told novel from one of my favorite writers.

March 8, 2010 in Books | Permalink