Book Reviews

William Trevor* The story of Lucy Gault

Shortlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize

I’ve picked it up from my bookshelf but I never thought I would find so little to love in this story. Everything was truly predictable, the characters lacked vitality and the only high-point in the entire book was the possibility of a romance. And even that one dwindled in the wind.

The language was poetic but the story was full of an atmosphere of melancholy and depression. It was chosen as a suitable book for our book group. I was so depressed when I got to the end of it I wanted no more of it..

What the story is about

The Story of Lucy Gault is set in provincial Ireland in the early 1920s at the height of civil turmoil and anti-English violence. Everard Gault, a retired Anglo-Irish army captain married to an Englishwoman, shoots and wounds one of the boys who has come in the night to set their house afire. This act sets in motion a chain of events that are to have grievous effects on the Gault family. Convinced their attackers will return, Everard and Heloise decide they must leave Ireland. But their daughter Lucy, heartbroken at such a prospect, runs away. When some of her clothes are found by the ocean shore, her parents assume she has committed suicide. In their grief they decide to travel, aimlessly at first, before settling in Italy and then Switzerland, losing touch entirely with Ireland. They remain unaware that Lucy did not die but has lived out the years waiting for their return, unable to forgive herself for her youthful recklessness. And, indeed, the problem of forgiveness lies at the heart of The Story of Lucy Gault—forgiveness for the act of terror that drove the family away, for Everard and Heloise’s mistaken conclusion that their daughter had drowned, and for all the words left unspoken that might have changed their fates.

Lucy is courted by a young fellow but after she refuses to marry him in hopes that her family will return, he goes to war and upon return marries another woman and has a child with her. Lucy’s mother dies in Switzerland, not knowing that her child was alive and as the doctors put it, it was not influenza but her deep melancholy that caused the death.

All that night the Captain wept, wishing he could be with her, no matter where she was. His shoulders heaved, his sobs were sometimes noisy, and between his bouts of grieving he went again to stare at the features he had loved for so long. He had been faithful in his marriage, never wishing to be otherwise, and he remembered how often Heloise had said she was happy, even during their last years together, here in Bellinzona, and before that in Montemarmoreo and on their excursions to Italy’s cities and busy towns.

She had made herself as happy as she could be, and it seemed not to matter how she had done it. In mourning her, the good moments came back, the pleasures, her laughter and his own, their discovery of one another when first they were married, when love was untouched by shadows. And there was now a blankness as empty as the snow in the streets.

After a failed attempt to seek out the companionship of another woman (a coutouriere in Paris), he decides to go back home and is surprised to see the house he left behind full of life, especially his long-lost daughter who has been brought up by the help. They are awkward with each other at first and as years go by, they are less tense. She cannot understand why she had passed on a chance to love and be loved in awaiting the return of her parents only to feel sorry for her thoughts and commiserate that passion and love have filled the void in her heart that her parents have left behind.

Calamity shaped a life when, long ago, chance was so cruel. Calamity shapes the story that is told, and is the reason for its being:is what they know, besides, the gentle fruit of such misfortune’s harvest?

The years keep on passing and besides a visit from a madman, nothing else happens. The father grows old and dies, the daughter never marries and is looked upon as an oddity by the locals – the spinster. She joins the nuns and then feels like the times have passed her by and she is old. And she will die alone when her childhood home will be a hotel now.

What I picked up from the story

Lucy is frozen in time. She’s like a glacier, unable to be warmed by human contact, unable to fully love somebody else. While her adoptive parents are besides her and making her laugh and fretting about her first date, she is cool and pushes him away only to want the poor guy back when he is married. And she is forever waiting. And we, the readers, are too. For something to happen! To break the monotony and the dreadful descriptions of what she had for tea or how old the people around her were getting.

I kept reminding myself that this was supposed to be a very sad story, but I just wasn’t feeling any of it.

I kept wishing that someone would just give her a good slap. I guess your parents can’t forgive you if it appears that you have moved on in any way. Personally, I’d say that they could probably call it even, since her parents left Ireland before they’d even discovered a body and cut off ties so completely that they could not be located for 30 years. I had the same feeling of frustration through this whole book that I get whenever I watch fussy adaptations of Jane Austen novels where everyone seems incapable of saying what they’re really thinking.

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