I picked up Trespass mainly, I'll be honest, because the cover caught my eye, and on reading the blurb I was sold. As a fan of France, I thought it'd be an interesting read. I wasn't wrong.
The book tells the tale of several characters, but their stories become more and more interwoven as time goes on. A beautiful old house is also a huge feature in the novel. The Mas Lunel is an old farmhouse, way out in the country in southern France. Aramon Lunel lives there in squalor, whilst his sister lives in a tiny bungalow on the land. There's certainly no love lost between these siblings because of their violent and disturbing past.
Things change for the siblings when Aramon decides to put the house up for sale. Audrun is horrified, knowing that rightfully that house is half hers but that if her brother sells it, she'll be left homeless and penniless. The potential buyer, Anthony Verey, is a man wanting to spend his last years in France. He visits the house and is almost decided upon buying it until he sees Audrun's house on the property - putting a real blip in the landscape, figuratively and literally.
However, this visit has already set wheels in motion which cannot easily be stopped and by the end of the book, several lives have been changed forever...
This was a brilliant read. At the beginning you would never guess what is going to come to pass. With every chapter, a little more information is given away, but it's done in such a way that you plough on through the book, desperate to know what happens next. The vital clues are drip-fed, but it's so skilfully done that it's unlikely you'll guess the ending - as I've done so many times in other books.
A really gripping read.
A tale of siblings, territory and revenge set in the South of France, this is a dark tale and the reader is kept in suspense about the nature of the tragic events until late in the book. It's also about people's relationship to the land and outsiders trespassing on this and on each other's lives.
Set in the hills of Southern France, Trespass is a novel about sibling love and rivalry, disputed territory and ultimately revenge. In the French corner are Aramon Lunel, resident of the Mas Lunel, and his sister Audrun who lives in a cottage in the grounds. In the English corner are Veronica Verey, a garden designer, and her partner, an untalented watercolourist, Kitty. The catalyst that brings these together is the arrival in France of Anthony Verey, Veronica's brother whose exclusive antiques business in London is failing and who decides to follow his sister in finding a new life in France. Aramon is tempted to sell his family Mas by the lure of `foreign' money even if that means that his sister's house has to be destroyed to secure the deal.
Multi-award winning Rose Tremain is a fascinating novelist because each of her books is very different. If anything ties them together it is the approach of from unexpected angles and a focus on unglamorous outsiders. Trespass is no exception - it's full of outsiders and they are always not easy to love. In fact, apart from the poor little school girl, Mélodie, who is left screaming at a gruesome discovery at the end of the first chapter (which we don't find out about for another 200 pages), it's difficult to feel much empathy of affection for any of the cast of characters.
Of course in real life, the obvious course for an antiques dealer in need of cash would be to turn up on day time TV selling tat in various auction rooms. Thankfully, Tremain takes Anthony Verey to the Cévennes hills. Tremain is not the first to set a book in the South of France, using the beauty of the land and the mysterious impact of the Mistral wind to bring disaster.
At times, some of her characters veer dangerously towards cliché. Why, for example, does Anthony need to have a penchant for young boys for example? It adds nothing to the story. His character is much more subtly portrayed by his amusing habit of appraising the history of every piece of furniture he encounters.
The story has a palpable sense of darkness about it. You know something bad is going to happen from the first chapter, but it's not clear what this is going to be or even to whom it will occur. Once it is clear what has happened, the culprit is not that much of a surprise but again, it's not clear if he or she will get away with it.
The book has important things to say about the clash of cultures and the whole importance of our relationship to the land. It's the English who are trespassing on French land, but also people who are trespassing on each other's lives.
I have to say that it's not my favourite of Tremain's books, but she's such an exciting writer that it's still a very good read. It's perhaps more unsettling and darker than her other books, and it keeps you guessing about the directions it's going to take. And I am still wondering about how poor Mélodie coped with her shocking discovery.
on 17 April 2011
There was great anticipation and high expectations for Tresspass which were regrettably not fulfilled. Pondering on the dissappointment, I laid the blame on the characters,who were difficult to engage with as they did not invoke any sympathy with the reader. Maybe if I was a gardening fan or a lover of antiques and art, I may have had a better connection?
Thinking about the themes of the book I realised that it would make great discussion for a reading group. The comparison of the sibling relationships of the French and English brothers and sisters and how the oldest sibling could be a protector compared to abuser.
The two Mother figures play significant parts in the novel even though they are not present for the reader, their lives and deaths impact greatly on the siblings and the subsequent alterations of their relationships. There are many other discussions that could be linked to the displacement of lives from city to country, England to France, success to failure, loved to unloved and would enliven any reading group discussion. But, the novel as a whole did not match some of Tremains previous work and sadly was not a great read for me.
on 1 September 2011
This is the first book by Rose Tremain that I have read and it won't be my last.
Unlike some other reviewers, I was hooked from the beginning and couldn't leave the book alone until I had read it all.
The story gently built up, until it was inevitable that something untoward would happen. I must admit that during the last quarter of the book, I had an idea of what the outcome might be, but the writing was so compelling that I had to read on. I'm glad I did.
on 15 June 2011
'A life is a life,' says the protagonist towards the end of this book. You play the hand life deals you. Rose Tremain is one of the best English novelists writing today, and this is a wonderful book. She follows the lives of a French and an English family, neither of which is any great recommendation for family life, and brings them together with great accomplishment. I don't expect to read many better books than this one this year.
on 4 August 2010
Another long review here. Sorry, this becoming a bad habit of mine...
'Trespass' is set in the Cévennes, southern France. The novel consists of two narrative threads which meet, cross, double-cross and become increasingly inter-twined as the story progresses. Firstly we meet Anthony Verey, a one-time famous, English antique dealer; he is sixty-four, miserable and addicted to rent boys. Anthony's antique business has been on the verge of collapse since the onset of the current economic recession, and the novel opens with him leaving his lavish Chelsea home and travelling to France, to live with his sister while he searches for his ideal country mansion in which to live out his retirement.
The second story-arc concerns Audrun and Aramon Lunel; French siblings, also in their sixties. Audrun was raped throughout her life by her father and brother, but emerged from the experience an independent and opinionated - if a tad clichéd - `survivor'. Aramon, by comparison, has suffered a dramatic fall-from-grace since youth, and is now a violent alcoholic. The siblings are engaged in a life-long bitter rivalry over land, inheritance and the sale of the giant family home, the Mas Lunel. No prizes will be given for guessing how the lives of Anthony and the Lunel siblings collide...
So far, so promising. The three central characters couldn't be more contrasting, each with their own selfishly demanding goals. Supplicating the conflict between these three protagonists are their back-stories - three turbulent narratives of past tragedies which, unfortunately, aren't given the focus they deserve. This is where Trespass' most obvious failing lies: the past histories of its characters make for much, much more interesting stories than the one the novel is actually telling.
Audrun's past is one of paternal abuse, rape, retribution and redemption. Anthony's past is scarred with doomed relationships, hidden homosexuality and a tragically un-reciprocated devotion to his mother; almost an Electra complex. These are the stories I want to read, these are the narratives that should have made up the novel; instead, they are given merely incidental reference. The story of an old man trying to buy a mansion from some feuding siblings is, by comparison, just dull.
There's an unintended bathos that destabilises this novel: the past is an unstable fault-line threatening to bring the superficial top-layer of this story to ruins - what happens beneath the narrative is vastly more engaging than the actual `plot'. While I praise Tremain for being daring enough to write a novel with an exclusively post-retirement age cast, it seems to me that the real drama of the book lies in the protagonists' histories. I understand what Rose Tremain is trying to accomplish - a hidden history that jeopardises the present day is a standard trope of story-telling; in this case, however, the history is too interesting and the present (the bulk of the novel), is just a muted aftermath. Anthony echoes my sentiments with this charmingly articulated mid-novel protest:
"You have to let go of the past, darling." She said.
"Why?" he replied, "I like it there."
Similar to the narrative, the writing is also a two-sided coin; one which, unfortunately, is weighted in favour of the competent rather than the excellent. Most of the writing is merely adequate; it's not stylised, but it gets the job done. There are, however, moments of expressive brilliance that tease us with what Tremain is capable of:
"The world is so dull, thought Anthony. So cripplingly tedious. So full of all that you've met a thousand times before and which has never moved you and never will. Yet still it goes on..."
I also admire the fact that Tremain doesn't directly describe the more graphic and violent events: sex, rape and murder all occur, but they are "off-screen", as it were; not part of the mise-en-scene of the narrative. With so many modern writers devoting so many words to detailed descriptions of rape and murder, it's refreshing to find a writer like Tremain; one who recognises that long-winded and visceral descriptions rarely contribute to momentum or plot, and more-often-than-not stray dangerously close to unintentional farce and cliché. But, as I have said, Trespass' high-points of stylistic excellence are few and far; separated by wide canyons of the mundane.
And so it is with every aspect of this novel. The characters have great back-stories, but uninspiring present-day ambitions. The writing has moments of beautiful expression, but is too often leaden with the uninteresting. Even the novel's final moments - a shocking and imaginative revelation - is marred by the fact that I saw-it-coming a hundred pages in advance. 'Trespass' is almost a very good novel, but it's also close to being a very bad one. Every success is counter-pointed by a failure and the result is something that's just middle-of-the-road. This `almost' factor left me in an unusual emotional state: I felt a kind of frustrated indifference, torn between accepting the novel as it is, and longing for what it could have been.