Years ago I read a novel by William Trevor called Felicia's Journey, which was a story of psychological terror akin to the works of Ruth Rendell. I don't actually remember the details very well of the story (too many years and too many books since then have passed by), but I recollect being impressed by his writing. I've always meant to read more of his work, so when I came across one of his short stories in The Mammoth Book of 20th Century Ghost Stories, I decided that would be my ghost story this weekend.
William Trevor is an Irish author who according to the introduction is "undeniably among the top half dozen short-story writers in the world". He's won all sorts of awards for his work. His stories deal with "domesticity, small town life and people, but all of them living under the shadow of depression and the likelihood of disillusionment and despair". "The Love of a Good Woman" fits into this pattern well. While I was reading I felt like it wasn't really a traditional ghost story, until I got to the end where there were undertones of the supernatural about it.
Henry Ridout is a mild mannered man, who in the first lines of the story murders his wife by throwing her overboard while they are out fishing. And he did it "out of kindness".
"Whatever are you doing?" demanded the first Mrs Henry Ridout, being surprised to find her husband easing her over the side of the boat.
Henry Ridout isn't a bad man and everyone believes he wouldn't hurt a fly. And he loved his wife deeply, at least when he first married her that is. And she was deeply in love with him, no matter what he did or said. It was obvious who wore the pants in the family, however, and it wasn't Henry. His wife poured all her love into him, but it stopped at the bedroom door. Henry didn't even know there was a problem until Emily Troop came to town.
So no one becomes suspicious of his wife's death and Henry gets away with it. And a year later Henry declares his love to Emily and they wed. Shortly thereafter a daughter is born. Strangely (or maybe not so much), as much as Henry loved his first wife, and really loved his second wife (who was voluptuous and amatory) he discovers that he loves his daughter even more. More than he's ever loved either wife.
Henry may have gotten away with murder, but over time it weighs heavily on his mind. For a while he almost convinced himself that the first Mrs Ridout did accidentally fall overboard. But when his daughter starts acting strangely, there's something amiss. Maybe something not of this world. And it's devasting because he loves his daughter so much. She's like a conduit from one world to the next--a very creepy thought.
Trevor's story is as mild mannered as Henry is, but it's well crafted. It was very subtle for a ghost story. William Trevor has acknowledged James Joyce as an influence on his writing. I'm going to have to tackle Joyce eventually I can see. Now I am interested to see how the two compare.