‘The Piano Teacher’s Pupil’ by William Trevor

The Piano Teacher’s Pupil by William Trevor, 2001

The magic trick:

Laying the thematic connections bare

We’ve got a weekend double for you with William Trevor stories.

Today’s story was published posthumously in The New Yorker, but it turns out it actually first saw print back in 2001.

It’s an odd Trevor story in that it doesn’t cloak its connecting themes behind a plot. The connections are the plot.

Our protagonist piano teacher thrills to find that her new student is a genius of sorts. This find – and the subsequent realization that he doubles as a petty thief – leads her to reflect on two previous brushes with complicated happiness in her life.

So the character and the reader alike are left to ponder the piano student, the teacher’s father, and the teacher’s former lover: what one means about the other and how the experiences have shaped her life.

It’s maybe not the literary subtlety we’ve come to expect from this author, but it’s insightful stuff nonetheless.

And that’s quite a trick on Trevor’s part.

The selection:

While darkness gathered, and when her second glass of sherry had been sipped away almost to nothing, Miss Nightingale sat for a few minutes longer. All her life, she often thought, was in this room, where her father had cosseted her in infancy, where he had seen her through the storms of adolescence, to which every evening he had brought back from his kitchens another chocolate he had invented for her. It was here that her lover had pressed himself upon her and whispered that she was beautiful, swearing that he could not live without her. And now, in this same room, a marvel had occurred.


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