Monday, 17 January 2011

The Children of Dynmouth by Wiliam Trevor

The blurb of The Children of Dynmouth uses the word ‘sinister’, and the phrase ‘evil lurking in the most unlikely places’. It had won me over with that alone, but the main reason for reading is that I was interested in the Penguin Decades series, and this was published the year I was born, so seemed as good a place as any to start.

Evil and sinister are definitely very appropriate words to describe both the feel of this book, and the central character, fifteen year old Timothy Gedge. Timothy lives in Dynmouth, a nondescript seaside town, and spends his time visiting the residents of the town, and just generally wandering around making sure he knows everybody’s business. He is a pretty odd character, he appears to have no friends of his own age, and enjoys attending funerals, whether he knew the deceased person or not. It is through Timothy’s eyes that we view the foibles, idiosyncrasies and secrets of the people of Dynmouth, and as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that he is prepared to use his ill-gotten information to further his own needs, wants and desires.

Timothy appears to be an unloved child, his mother seems to have no time for him, yet all the time in the world for his elder sister, and his oddness leaves him with very few friends at school. The only time he ever felt good at anything was when he dressed up as Elizabeth the 1st for a lesson, and realised he had a talent for mimicry and humour. Thus when the annual spot the talent competition comes around, he decides to enter with a decidedly dubious act involving a bath, a wedding dress and three historical murders. And then sets about procuring all the props he needs from the residents of Dynmouth, using his knowledge of their hidden truths to blackmail them in to giving them what he needs. Sometimes he is speaking the truth, other times he is only partially truthful, and he has used his imagination to conjure up the rest, but on all occasions he causes devastation in his wake, tearing apart families and friendships, and exposing the papered over cracks in peoples lives. He is also creating the excitement he craves in life through bizarre fantasies. It is one such fantasy, that celebrity talent spotters may be at the small town talent show, that fuels his rampage through the personal lives of the people of Dynmouth, and when this is finally quashed, it is only replaced by another, even more unlikely fantasy.

In many ways Timothy is a despicable character, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly sorry for him. Unloved at home, ostracised at school, and living in a town where the height of ambition seems to be to get a job in either the fish packing place, or the sandpaper factory is hardly the ideal scenario for turning out a healthy, happy well balanced child. Tellingly, the two most balanced, well adjusted children in the story are the two that are schooled outside of Dynmouth and only return for their holidays. As a character, Timothy is a brilliant vehicle for developing a sense of the stifling nature of growing up in a small town, without parental guidance and support.

The novel itself is interesting and as much as Timothy, his deviousness and his fantasies are a large part of the story, the people of Dynmouth themselves, and the gradual reveal of their facades, fantasies and hidden truths was another of the reasons I liked this book. Dynmouth is always portrayed as dull and staid, but when we first meet the residents they seem happy, if ever so slightly resigned to the blandness of their lives. As Timothy reveals his secrets, the residents take on a new light, and their unhappiness and despair almost seems to have been apparent from the start. I liked seeing how the dynamics between people changed as their secrets became known, and the unhappiness they had previously managed to hide (even from themselves) came to the forefront, and permanently changed relationships.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The sinister and evil mood was present almost from the very start of the book, but it was a very gentle story, with nothing overplayed or exaggerated. It all just felt very real. The characterisation of all the characters seemed totally believable, and their secrets, although one of them was a fairly big secret, none of them seemed outlandish at all. It was a book about small, ordinary things. The ordinary lives were changed by the actions of one child, and I felt it was enlightening both in how many secrets a small community can have, and the effects of these secrets on that community.

Good Bits

“Timothy Gedge was a youth of fifteen, ungainly due to adolescence, a boy with a sharp boned face and wide, thin shoulders whose short hair was almost white. His eyes seemed hungry, giving him a predatory look; his cheeks had a hollowness about them. He was always dressed in the same clothes: pale yellow jacket with a zip, and a t-shirt that more often than not was yellow also.”

2 comments:

Nic Coivert said...

A sad and chilling read. What if Timothy is correct though? What if he does witness a murder? Just because he has delusions about the talent show doesn't make him completely delusional, after all, he's only 15. And the ending certainly is a twist, wanting an inheritance from Miss Lavant, his real mother, he claims. Could this be another hidden truth?

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