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The village of Dynmouth sits on the coast of England, it seems like a sleepy little town which is an ideal place to bring up a family or spend your retirement. Fifteen year old Timothy Gedge spends his free time aimlessly wandering around the town and takes a keen interest in what the villagers get up to. When he plans to put on an act at the summer fete he needs some help to get together props and materials so turns to the community for help. When his requests for help fall on deaf ears he works out that the only way to get what he wants is to resort to blackmail. It seems that the good people of Dynmouth have some skeletons in the closet but will Timothy reveal all or will they give in to his demands for an easy life?
Timothy Gedge would be described by some as a loner; a 15 year old boy with few friends who spends his time wandering the streets of Dynmouth in his yellow jeans and jacket. Timothy desperately tries to belong yet his lack of social skills means that he is seen as a freak by kids and adults alike. His strange behaviours include attending funerals of strangers and spending his evenings peering into the windows of his neighbours. Dynmouth is full of quirky characters, there's Mr Featherstone the vicar with his young wife and unruly twin daughters; the retired army colonel who goes for a daily dip in the sea and his doormat of a wife, the adulterous pub landlord and the blended family created when a divorcee marries a widower. These people are all respectable pillars of the community but look beneath the surface of any of those lives and you will that hidden beneath the façades there is a darker side of life.
The success of the book is down to the strongly drawn characters and the way that the author builds a sense of uneasiness and suspense. Timothy can be seen as mad, bad or sad depending on your point of view and I found my opinion of him turning from hatred to pity and back again during the book. The book was written in 1976 and captures the mood of that decade perfectly, a decade which seems both very quaint and innocent compared to the 21st century yet also very brutal and unforgiving when it comes to social attitudes.
"The Children of Dynmouth" is a book that I would never have chosen to read but I was forced to pick it up for my book club and it ended up being an excellent choice. The discussions of the book went on for a good couple of hours and it sparked fascinating debates about the nature of good and evil, at what point a person becomes so bad they cannot be redeemed, nature vs. nurture, sexuality, how much bad parenting can be blamed for how a person turns out and the collective responsibility we have towards our communities.
"The Children of Dynmouth" is an excellent book; in a mere 208 pages William Trevor builds a sense of suspense, introduces some excellent characters, packs the page with some very droll humour and makes the reader think about bigger societal issues.