Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor (2002)

The always-amazing Choo recently lent me a copy of William Trevor's tragic novel The Story of Lucy Gault (2002). I've never read anything by Trevor before this, but he is a well-respected and prolific Irish author and playwright, and I would imagine that his age and experiences make him well qualified to pen such a classically told exploration of morality.

The Story of Lucy Gault begins in Ireland in 1921. Captain Gault comes from a prominent Protestant Irish family, and he and his English wife have a young daughter named Lucy. Being Protestant, married to an Englishwoman, and a former member of the British army puts Gault on the wrong side of the Irish War of Independence, and when three young men from a nearby village poison his dogs and attempt to burn down his house, Captain Gault accidentally shoots one of them in the shoulder as he tries to scare them away. A fear of vengeance leads the Gault's to plan a move to England, and while the household prepares for retreat, little Lucy gets more and more frustrated and angry at the idea of having to leave the beautiful country home that she loves.

Shortly before they are to depart for England, Lucy makes a last bid to stay in Ireland by packing up some food and clothes and running away through the forest to the home of a recently-let-go chamber maid. She figures that her parents will take her seriously and change their minds about moving if she does something drastic. Lucy trips and hurts her ankle in the woods and can't make it to town or back to her house. Her dad then finds some of her clothes washed up on the shore (she left them there after swimming by herself -- something she wasn't supposed to do), and when she doesn't return for days, her parents, the servants, and the townspeople all believe she drowned in the ocean. Her parents, distraught with grief, leave as planned -- but instead of going to England, they travel blindly around the continent and cut off all contact with Ireland. When Lucy is found by Henry, the groundskeeper, a few days after their departure, there is no way to contact her parents to let them know she is okay.

From this one action, a young child playing at running away, the lives of all our characters are completely broken, and the hurt keeps on coming. And just when you think you can't take any more of it, life goes on. Characters age, find routines, avoid their pain, and keep their vigils for past mistakes. While there are some reunions, there are still more heartbreaks before the end of the book, and Trevor has a perfect sense of when to twist his knife and when to give his characters some breathing room.

This novel is almost theological in its insistence on the ability of humans to transcend tragedy and find beauty and comfort in the natural world and the routine of the everyday. The dialogue is sometimes a little stiff, but Trevor's old-fashioned writing style works perfectly with this heartbreaking story. Not a barrel of laughs, but if you appreciate the calm that comes after a nicely structured tragedy, this is the book for you.

No comments: