Absence in the Rooms, Silence in the Garden

Carriglas will be a place to stroll to on a summer’s afternoon, the tidy script asserts, as we have strolled to the fallen abbey and the burial mound. Absence has gathered in the rooms, and silence in the garden. They have returned Carriglas to its clay. He covers again the still remains and moves to extinguish the light. As he descends through the house those last words echo, lightening his bewilderment: their punishment of themselves seems terrible, yet a marvel also.

Have you ever read something that answered your mood so perfectly that you were almost, but not quite, unnerved by it? By the feeling that Someone has been looking over your shoulder? Or perhaps by a shock of realization: Look, here are gossamer threads connecting each of us to everyone and everything else in the universe! Here is a hidden chain of cause and effect, and this moment in my life is just one in an infinite number of links, stretching back into the forgotten past and forward into the unimaginable future!


A bomb kills a man. He’s the butler at a grand house. It isn’t meant for him, this bomb. He just happens to be the one who trips the wire stretched across the driveway. Not quite nine months later, his fiancée gives birth to a son. Scandalously, for this is Ireland in 1921. She’s the cook. The great family takes pity on her and continues to employ her. So the boy grows up on the estate. Decades later, he stands to inherit the house on the island, which is falling into disrepair, along with the few fields that remain from the ancestral estate. He will live out his life there, tending the few cattle and sheep, going into town to have an ale and place a bet on a horse race, putting out another bucket to catch the drips of water coming through the roof.


In the intervening years, for this family and these servants at Carriglas, what happens? Nothing much beyond the mundane business of living: a father’s life lost in the Great War, meals prepared and rooms cleaned as instructed by the grandmother, crops sown and harvested by one grandson, weekly visits by a second grandson to the second floor of a boarding house in town, a granddaughter’s broken engagement and heart …

Villana picked up her book, from where she’d left it on the grass before going for a walk. ‘But, my dear girl, we can all do perfectly well without happiness,‘ a line of dialogue maintained. Some wise old gentleman was speaking, a traveller who had climbed the mountains of four continents and seen nature in the raw. ‘The other side of the coin, my dear, is that no one can do without love. It is the greatest of all deprivations not to know love in some wise, either to give or to receive. It hardly matters which.


She nodded over the words, agreeing with the sentiment. But what the novel didn’t say was that love left an emptiness behind that was as cold as frozen snow. The lonely cigarette in the middle of the night, the pages of another story turned, the balm of Traynor’s picture house, the dream of Hugh returning to Carriglas; none of them lasted long. Only love itself, offered from whatever source, could warm, just a little, those fathomless depths.

… the return of a poor relation to help keep house, petty cruelty inflicted by townspeople upon the boy born out of wedlock, the daily to and fro of the ferry, a wedding reception almost ruined by the unexpected arrival of a drunken mistress, the construction and dedication of a bridge, deaths of old people, a secret revealed, and the burning of a diary.


To close a book and feel reassured that despite everything, an ordinary life can be both terrible and marvelous — oh well, what can I say, except thank you, thank you, thank you to this man. Requiescas in pace. 


William Trevor, 24 May 1928 – 20 November 2016

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