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on 18 March 2012
Generally, genre thrillers are books without thrills. Someone gets killed. Turn the page and it happens again to someone else. There's a chase, a near miss; da capo al fine; repeat. There are never consequences. Characters seem to exist - they never come to life - in an eternal present devoid of either thought or reflection. Plot is a series of events, while characters are mere fashionably dressed acts. William Trevor's beautiful novel, Fools Of Fortune is, in many ways, a whodunit - or better who done what - thriller. But it transcends genre because it is the consequences of the actions and their motives that feature large, that provide plot and ultimately a credible, if tragic humanity.

Fools Of Fortune is a novel that presents tragedy not merely as a vehicle for portraying raw emotion, but rather as a means of illustrating the depth of ensuing consequence, both historical and personal. In conflict it is easy to list events, quote numbers, suggest outcome, but it is rare to have a feel of how momentous events can have life-long consequences for those involved, consequences that even protagonists cannot envisage, consequences that can affect the lives of those not even involved.

William Trevor's book is set in Ireland. Its story spans decades, but the crucial elements of the plot are placed in the second decade of the twentieth century. They do involve the First World War, but really as a sideshow to the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. The Quinton family are Protestants living in an old house called Kinleagh in County Cork. Willie Quinton is a child, initially home schooled by a priest called Kilgarriff, who has a highly personal view of the world. We see many of the events through Willie's child eyes, including a surreptitious meeting between Willie's father and a famous man who visits on a motorbike.

The family owns a flour mill. They are quite well off, a fact that is clearly appreciated by some and resented by others. Crucially, it is this availability of finance that leads to a downfall, events that lead to deaths, destruction and calls for revenge. Willie's life is transformed for ever.

Over the water, the Woodcombes of Woodcombe Park, Dorset, have a daughter called Marianne. The Woodcombes and the Quintons are related. Marianne is Willie's cousin.

On a visit to Kinleagh she falls in love with Willie. She is a small, delicate girl. She has experience of a Swiss finishing school, a stay that brings exposure to practices that are not wholly educational. Marianne returns to Kinleagh to find Willie. She has important news, but finds that devastation has hit the Quinton household, a culmination of events beyond the control of any individual. No-one wants to talk about what might have happened, and no-one admits to the whereabouts of Willie. Marianne stays to wait for his return. It proves to be a long wait.

There is vengeance in the air, and unforeseen consequences for a child who apparently played no part in any of the events. She was blameless, a mere recipient of the consequences of others' actions, of others' grief.

William Trevor tells the tale of Fools Of Fortune as serial memoirs of those involved, primarily Willie and Marianne. Some of the school experiences that form a significant part of the story are comic, and offer some relief to the pressure of unfolding tragedy. But central to the book's non-linear discovery of motive and consequence is the fact that events can dictate the content of lives, and sometimes individuals appear as no more than powerless pawns in games dictated by others. We are all participants, but not always on our own terms.
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on 4 September 1999
Nobody writes like William Trevor. His sparse style and incisive characterisation leave you dissatisfied with the ponderous pages taken by most writers in attempting what he seems to effortlessly achieve. A love story spanning decades is made so intimate you feel as though you've lived each moment of the characters' lives along with them.
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on 20 June 2014
Book came too late for book club meeting which was a great shame. Wonderfully written tale illustrating the intricacies of the Irish history problem. Why is this writer out of print? Is it because he is Irish and his story is subject to English indifference?
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on 26 January 2016
Trevor uses a split narrative technique in this poignant story of a doomed love between an Irish boy and an English girl showing how the Irish situation is and always has been subjective and biased. The story is a dark one with a pessimistic outlook, worthy of Thomas Hardy. The characters are trapped by their past. They learn nothing from their experience. The tragedy revolves around the fact that nothing is resolved by the violent actions in the story. The message is that violence begets violence and damages the innocent. Very pertinent to the Irish situation at that time, at the time of writing (1983) and now. Brilliantly written, where the acts of violence and their consequences are only slowly revealed, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. William Trever never disappoints.
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on 8 February 2006
"Fools of fortune" is the drama of an Anglo-Irish Protestant family, recounted by Irish novelist William Trevor - born in 1928 in the same County Cork at the centre of this story. Because of the ideological and economical support given from Mr. and Mrs. Quinton to Michael Collins and the Irish cause, when an Irish spy of the Black and Tans is found hanged on Quinton land, the retaliation of the Black and Tans against the house of Kilneagh is terrible - plunging the surviving son Willie, his mother Evie, his love interest Marianne and their illegitimate child Imelda in a spiral of pain, revenge, terror and madness through generations. But while the other Trevor novel on the Irish cause, "The Story of Lucy Gault", is a master-work and already an enduring classic, "Fools of Fortune" is powerful in plot but broken in carrying it out. There are many - maybe too much - genres of novel in this book, following the different characters: historical all along, in a background reconstruction exact in details, but too often devolved to the simple suggestion of famous names; pseudo-autobiographical in Dickensian style for Willie's youthness (the worst part of the book); sickly romantic for pregnant Marianne wandering in search of her lover (the best part of the book). Other notable sequences are the scene in which Evie gives a name to the slayer of her husband and daughters, and the horror narrative of little Imelda plunging into a ghastly past. Another weak point of the novel is Willie's change - at first willing only to forget, then bloody avenger - a turn that is not in Willie's character as largely described in the book. "Fools of fortune" resembles the red and blue kite of little Imelda: beautiful and sometimes lively, but too often losing height. If you like William Trevor style and/or are interested in the central theme of "Fools of fortune" - the devastation brought on individuals from the state of war in Ireland between 1916 and 1923 - try the heartrending perfection of "The Story of Lucy Gault" for better fortune.
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on 23 April 2016
A beautifully written book, filled with romance, tragedy and humour. Each time you read it you find something new. Bang up to date right now with anniversary of the start of the 'troubles'.Fantastic! William Trevor at his best.
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on 26 November 2013
Lovely language and writing style. Poignant and tragic story which is what Trevor is good at. If you like this try 'The Story of Lucy Gault' also.
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on 7 March 2015
A great book, written well.
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on 7 February 2016
Excellent
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on 21 June 2015
This is my second read
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