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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Trespass" by Rose Tremain (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Order Trespass HERE
Read a short extract HERE or a longer one with Google Books

INTRODUCTION: I have first heard of Trespass from the 2010 Booker Longlist but when it was recently published here in the USA and a copy fell in my hands, I was hooked from the first page and the novel turned out to be even more haunting than I expected.

"Two pairs of siblings and their twisted pasts converge in this gripping, dark novel from Orange Prize–winner Tremain (The Road Home). In the southern French Cévennes region, Audrun lives a peaceful if bitter life in a small bungalow a stone's throw from her family home. She's been cast out, either by inheritance or some terrible transgression; her drunken, spiteful brother, Aramon, who still resides there, hopes to sell the home to foreign tourists, an act that would further uproot Audrun. Meanwhile, Anthony Verey, a once-renowned London antiques dealer, having reached an existential precipice, descends on his sister, Veronica, who lives near the Cévennes with her lover, Kitty. As Anthony and Kitty quietly battle for Veronica's affections, Audrun and Aramon struggle with their history and land. Anthony wants a home in the region, hoping it will fill his void, and he joins the wave of foreigners hungrily circling the area. Soon, a series of rash decisions impacts all of their lives in brutal, unforgettable ways."

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Trespass stands at about 270 pages divided into 44 numbered chapters. The narration is in third person, mostly in the present of the novel but with flashbacks to the past that illuminate the choices of the five main characters described in the blurb above.

Trespass is a dark literary drama that one could call a "literary thriller" if one understands that the gripping action is mostly psychological rather than car-chases and shootouts, though there are shotguns, disappeared cars and such here too...

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "About the earth she knew she was not wrong. About the earth of her beloved Cévennes she never conjured inappropriate thoughts. There was a pattern to how things became and she – Audrun Lunel, child of the village of La Callune – understood it perfectly. Fire or flood could come (and often did come) to sweep everything away. But still the rain fell and the wind blew."

The above quote illustrates the title meaning in a "physical way"; well-to-do "foreigners" coming with large amounts of money - at least from the locals' point of view - and wanting to buy properties that are in the middle of nowhere, mostly decrepit and where people earn a meager living these days. A very powerful temptation and since Aramon has inherited most of the land and the big house, Audrun cannot do that much about...

"As Kitty walked towards the water, she wondered: Doesn’t every love need to create for itself its own protected space? And if so, why don’t lovers understand better the damage trespass can do? It made her furious to think how easily Veronica was colluding with the unspoken open-endedness of Anthony’s visit – as though he was the one who mattered most to her, who had the right to come first and always would, and it was up to her, Kitty, to accept this hierarchy with grown-up grace and not make a fuss."

This quote shows the psychological meaning of the title; while Kitty and Veronica seem to form a stable couple in the French village they live and work and they even have made friends with the mayor and the locals after a rough beginning concerning water-rights, Anthony's epiphany and arrival to look for his own house around spells trouble...

But there is much more than that, with the slowly revealed past of the Lunel family on one hand and the complicated relationship between Veronica, Anthony and their mother Lal on the other, so there will be more instances of "trespass", some darker and with long lasting effects.

The atmosphere of the novel - I could not really call it world building, though it is as absorbing as many exotic secondary worlds - is just perfect and it is probably the first thing that will impress you. The characters who at first glance seem to be just "passed" and of little interest - two men in their sixties and three late middle aged women - are actually very engrossing and while all have their warts, from the arrogance of Anthony and to a lesser extent of Veronica, to the drunkenness and coarseness of Aramon, the fainting spells of Audrun or the insecurities of Kitty, they all become sympathetic to some extent and there is a deep irony in the way the plot goes and who will be doing what...

Trespass' structure is also interesting since we are first thrown into the fray through the eyes of a schoolgirl who sees herself "exiled from Paris" and hates the Cevennes region and the bullying of her new schoolmates, so in looking for isolation she also "trespasses" and makes a discovery that will be revealed later and bring the novel full circle toward its dramatic denouement. A bit of a gamble in a way since this first chapter seems unrelated to what follows, but it worked beautifully as an opening gambit ...

Trespass (A+) is a novel of secrets, of unwanted intrusions both physical and psychological and which range from the "annoying" to the dark and literally life-changing and a literary thriller with characters that will stay with you for a long time.

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