Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'The Story of Lucy Gault'

by William Trevor
Fiction, 2002
Viking (Penguin), trade pb, 220 p.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2002
Captain Gault had seen off the three intruders easily enough. They had come in the night with the intention of firing the house, but a single shot had sent them scuttling back into the darkness. One, though, had been wounded and for that the Gaults were not forgiven: sooner or later there would be trouble again. Other big-house families had been driven out – the Morells from Clashmore, the Gouvernets, the Priors, the Swifts. It was time to go too.

But Lucy, soon to be nine, the only child of the household, could not bear the thought of leaving Lahardane. Her world was the old house itself, the woods of the glen, the farm animals, the walk along the seashore to school. All of that she loved and as the day of departure grew closer she determined that this exile should not take place. But chance changed everything, bringing about a calamity so terrible that it might have been a punishment, so vicious that it blighted the lives of all the Gaults for many years to come.
Well, I have to say I had a hard time buying into the basic premise of this story, which kept me from fully believing it. I realize the story was set in the 1920s when things were quite different in terms of how we could communicate, no cell phones or email for starters, but I had a hard time getting past it and some of the characters' behaviour. Sorry, I know I’m being a bit vague here but to explain clearly would be a rather large spoiler. I don’t regret reading it though for otherwise it was beautifully written, with lovely descriptions of the Irish countryside and seashore where Lucy often liked to walk. We never made it to Ireland when we were living in England, but reading this made me wish again that we had.

Ultimately though, it’s a very sad, rather depressing tale. I think this review in The Times Online sums it up well:
Readers must judge for themselves whether it is the weakness or the strength of this finely crafted novel that Trevor does not flinch: while scattering some crumbs of comfort, he offers resignation rather than redemption, leaving us with a palpable sense of sadness for wasted lives and lost opportunities.
I originally picked this up because it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and read it now because it was on the original 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List, but I think that this novel was perhaps not the best introduction for me to Trevor’s work. Reviews for it seem quite mixed, although some love it so don’t let my rather negative review put you off. However, even the author apparently considers himself primarily a writer of short stories who occasionally writes novels, so I think I’d like to try some of his stories next time around.
‘D’you know how many books there are at Lahardane?’
‘There are four thousand and twenty-seven. So old, some of them, they’re falling to bits. Others have never been opened. Do you know how many I’ve read? Can you guess?’
Ralph shook his head.
‘Five hundred and twelve. Last night, for the second time, I finished Vanity Fair.’
‘I haven’t read it even once.’
‘It’s very good.’
‘I’ll read it one of these days.’
‘It has taken me years to read all those books. I began when I left school.’
[ … ]
‘Do you think it strange that I counted the books?’
‘No, not at all.’
He imagined her counting, a finger passing from spine to spine along a bookshelf, and then beginning again on the shelf below. When he’d come the last time he hadn’t been invited into the house. He wondered if today he’d see the rooms, and hoped he would.
Listen to an interview with the author from BBC Radio 3.
Review in The Guardian (contains spoilers!)
Review in The Times Online

First sentence: Captain Everard Gault wounded the boy in the right shoulder on the night of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one.

New vocabulary
pusillanimous: lacking courage and resolution : marked by contemptible timidity
Even though in the ordinary run of things she was not pusillanimous, Heloise Gault felt frightened. (p. 6)

My Rating: 3/5
(#6 for 2009, 1% Well-Read Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Reading Matters
We Be Reading
Have you read and reviewed this title? Let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. I've never heard of this author. Sorry the book was a bit of a disappointment.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  2. I'm very tempted to look at the Guardian review but will avoid it. THanks for the warning on the spoilers!

    I've only read one of his books which I thought was pretty depressing too. Hmm, I would like to try another of his novels but don't know which one next.

  3. Sorry to hear this one didn't quite work for you. I've read a few of Trevor's short stories and I had some trouble getting into them.

  4. I usually like William Trevor however I haven't read all his novels, far from it. The last one I read was rather funny and lighthearted, so I was surprised to see he had talent for such a dark tale.

    I will try to find the title I read which made me like him

  5. I read this book last year -


    It definitely made me want to try out something more by Trevor. I think this one was hard to love because it's so depressing and bleak.

  6. I'm a fan of Trevor's short stories, but have never read any of his novels. His work is definitely on the bleak side, but I like his descriptions of Irish life, and I like him as a stylist. I'd be interested to hear if you like his short stories :)

  7. Anna - It certainly wasn't horrible but I guess I wanted something else from it.

    Iliana - I'm not sure which one of his books to try next either but I do think I'd like to try some of his short stories.

    Nymeth - I don't have anything else by him on hand so it'll probably be a while but I wouldn't mind trying something else.

    Sylvie - It seems that his stories often have a dark, bleakness to them. I have no problem with bleak if it's well told. I'd love to hear which book of his you really loved.

    Kristen M. - It was such a depressing story, but I agree that I'd like to try something else by him sometime. Thanks for the link to your review, I'll add it to the post.

    Gentle Reader - He apparently does call himself primarily a short story writer so I would like to try some of his short stories. Is there a specific collection of his short stories that you would recommend?

  8. I never read anything by him, but once a customer highly recommended this book to me so I put it in my wishlist. Not so sure now!

  9. valentina - We all have different tastes in books though, maybe you'd like it. I did think it was well written, and I'd like to read something else by Trevor sometime.


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