Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Cheating at Canasta: Stories

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Cheating at Canasta: Stories

Stories

by William Trevor

Cheating at Canasta: Stories by William Trevor
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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William Trevor was born on May 24, 1928, in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in the Republic of Ireland. He grew up in various provincial towns and attended a number of schools, graduating from Trinity College, in Dublin, with a degree in history. He first exercised his artistry as a sculptor, working as a teacher in Northern Ireland and then emigrated to England in search of work when the school went bankrupt. He could have returned to Ireland once he became a successful writer, he said, "but by then I had become a wanderer, and one way and another, I just stayed in England ... I hated leaving Ireland. I was very bitter at the time. But, had it not happened, I think I might never have written at all."

In 1958 Trevor published his first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, to little critical success. Two years later, he abandoned sculpting completely, feeling his work had become too abstract, and found a job writing copy for a London advertising agency. 'This was absurd,' he said. 'They would give me four lines or so to write and four or five days to write it in. It was so boring. But they had given me this typewriter to work on, so I just started writing stories. I sometimes think all the people who were missing in my sculpture gushed out into the stories.' He published several short stories, then his second and third novels, which both won the Hawthornden Prize*. A number of other prizes followed, and Trevor began working full-time as a writer in 1965.

Since then, Trevor has published nearly 40 novels, short story collections, plays, and collections of nonfiction (bibliography). He has won three Whitbread Awards, a PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 1977 Trevor was awarded an honorary CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his services to literature. Since he began writing, he regularly spends half the year in Italy or Switzerland, often visiting Ireland in the other half. His home is in Devon, in South West England, on an old mill surrounded by 40 acres of land.

The heart of William Trevor's style is best illuminated by Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, who wrote that "decisive moments define the lives of almost all of Mr. Trevor's characters, dividing their lives into an after and a before, a now and a then ... the line of demarcation in a character's life has less to do with the loss of love than with the loss of innocence - something happens to fundamentally change how an individual sees himself or his family or a friend; and in the wake of that revelation, his entire relationship to the world is altered."

*Established in 1919 by Alice Warrender and named after William Drummond of Hawthornden, the Hawthornden Prize is one of the UK's oldest literary awards.

Article by Lucia Silva

This article was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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