1976 – “The Children of Dymchurch” by William Trevor

William Trevor is an author of whom I have heard but whose books I have never read. As part of my 60 books from 60 years challenge I decided to read The Children of Dynmouth and found it an unusual and compelling read.

Dynmouth is a small, tourist town with a local population who know each other and are often involved in community activities. For the Bank Holiday the local church is putting on a talent competition. Timothy is a local teenager who wants to be famous. He is sure that this competition is the way to start and he has talked himself into believing that Hughie Green from Opportunity Knocks (Google it if you aren’t old enough to remember) will be staying in the town over the weekend and will choose him to appear on the programme where he will be an instant success. He devises a very strange comedy routine involving what is known as the Brides in the Bath murders – it’s inappropriate and obviously unworkable but he starts to gather the props he will need for his show.

At first you think that Timothy is just annoying and possible deluded but as he starts to interact with local people to gather what he needs for his act he realise that there is something more sinister going on. He seems to have no social skills at all and to fail to notice that people don’t appreciate his jokes or want his company. Timothy calls at the houses of those he wants to help him, most of whom are adults. When he makes outrageous requests for the loan of items or for people to perform tasks for him they usually refuse. He keeps on asking and persists. He seems to believe that they will do what he wants if he asks often enough. When he isn’t successful he starts hinting to these people about things that he knows and has seen that they have done and which they would not like other people to know.

This is a chilling book. It is remarkable how Timothy moves from being annoying to something really quite creepy. He has been spying on people for years and the secrets he has have the power to destroy lives, and some of them do. He convinces one boy that his mother killed his father because he wants to borrow the mother’s wedding dress. He reveals to one woman that her husband spies on young boys when they are undressing because he wants to borrow a suit. He reminds one couple about why their son really left town because he wants to them to provide some curtails for the stage. His actions hurt people and disrupt lives but don’t seem to affect him at all.

The remarkable thing about the secrets that Timothy has rooted out and seems to threaten to tell others about is that they are true, or mostly true. This lovely little seaside town is full of people who have committed shameful acts and Timothy seems to know them all. It is difficult to know how far he would really spread these stories and whether he made up the whole talent show act in order to exercise power over others.

This is a short book but absolutely compelling. You really don’t know what Timothy is going to reveal next and you don’t know whether to feel sorry for him or to despise him – or both. An unusual story but beautifully told.

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