Book Review: The Mark-2 Wife by William Trevor

10562183Title: The Mark-2 Wife

Author: William Trevor

Genre: Short Stories, Fiction

“It’s like gadgets in shops.  You buy a gadget and you develop an affection for it… but all of a sudden there are newer and better gadgets in the shops.  More up-to-date models.”

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I had no idea that Penguin did a mini classics collection, so stumbling upon this book was really exciting.  I’m not all that familiar with William Trevor (I seem to spend most of the time accidentally calling him Trevor Williams for some reason), but this collection of three ‘slice of life’ short stories really appealed to me.

The first story, ‘The Mark-2 Wife’, was probably my favourite.  In this story, the longest in the collection and oldest (it was first published in 1972), a woman waits alone at a party full of strangers for her husband, and becomes increasingly more paranoid that he is cheating on her as the hours pass.  She is looked after by an elderly couple who grow concerned for her health throughout her anxious episodes.  What I loved about the story was that the focus quickly shifted from Anna Mackintosh onto the elderly couple, General and Mrs Ritchie, and their quiet conversations conveying their worried thoughts for Anna.  As a reader, I spent much of the story wondering whether Anna was suffering from mental illness (the way her anxieties spiraled out of control was very convincing) or was actually right about her husband, and the events are wrapped up with a surprising and clever ending.

The second story, ‘The Time of Year’, didn’t really do much for me.  It follows the thoughts of a university student at an end-of-term party, who reminisces back with great sadness to an idea she had with her first love to go swimming at Christmas, which ended in tragedy.  However, I found that most of the story didn’t move me at all, and I think this was because there were so many characters at the party, and so many things going on that I found too distracting.

The final story, ‘Cheating at Canasta’, luckily redeemed the collection for me, in which a middle-aged man revisits a restaurant in Venice he used to enjoy dining at with his wife.  During the visit, he overhears an unhappy conversation between an American couple, which prompts memories of his own.  It wasn’t an exceptional story, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  There was also a line in it that I found particularly poetic: ‘Belittling melancholy, he shook his head.’  ‘Cheating at Canasta’ was certainly the saddest story of the three, and ended the collection with a bittersweet note that I found quite effective (ye olde book hangover strikes again).

Marriage was an uncalculated risk, Mallory remembered saying once.  The trickiest of all undertakings, he might have called it, might even have suggested that knowing this was an insurance against the worst, a necessary awareness of what unwelcome surprises there might be.

The collection as a whole had a very melancholy feel to it – it wasn’t necessarily the easy read I thought it would be, in that sense.  I think overall, particularly with that completely unmoving middle story, I wouldn’t rush out in search of more William Trevor books, but the mini classics concept by Penguin is ingenious and it made a perfect read for my daily commute.

Star Rating: ★★★½ (3.5/5)

Have you read any of the stories in this collection?  What are your thoughts on them?


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