Children of Dynmouth

This is a very British tale by a very British author, an acquired taste, I believe. You must appreciate understatement and dry wit to find it engaging, and you also must be able to bulldoze past a mind-numbing batch of opening pages documenting the town’s scenery. It’s a very slow starter but picks up after the first quarter.

The town is a tiny seaside community in long decline where the chief economic engine is a sandpaper factory.  The characters are small-minded, dim-witted, and set in traditions and their habits of behavior, speech, and activity. These are ripe characters for satire, though by now, some forty years later, they are well-worn stereotypes.

Among the few children in the town is Timothy, an under-socialized and delusional sociopath who spies on the townsfolk, learning their secrets, such as infidelities, then insinuates himself into their lives with the promise that “their secret is safe with him.” People treat him with annoyed and chilly politeness at first, then later, with alarm. He is portrayed merely as a troublemaker at first but near the climax, more delusionally  psychotic.

I didn’t find the characters’ psychological moves realistic or convincing, but I admit the culture portrayed is not my own, so that could be my deficiency. The descriptions of the town and its characters are vivid.  In the end, we are told by the preacher that the “case” of Timothy is a study in the banality of evil. He is neither possessed by devils nor intentionally evil; just a mixed-up kid.

The writing is mild, the theme is mild, and the overall tone is mild. It is a mild book, a study of manners in a certain time in a certain place, interesting now because that time and place have virtually vanished from the modern world. Winner of the Whitbread Award and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the novel will appeal to those who enjoy British dramas on PBS and appreciate a quiet, British sensibility.

Trevor, William (1976). The Children of Dynmouth. New York: Penguin, 195 pp.

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