Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: The Story of Lucy Gault

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor

The premise of William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault is compellingly tragic, and I had hoped that the overall novel would share this same sense of tragedy. When parents leave behind a child who has runaway and been injured, believing her to have been drowned, the disappear from their previous life. Their daughter is left behind to live with the servants and with the guilt of the misery she has put her parents through. Her parents also suffer with the guilt of their daughter’s death, the result of a hasty decision to leave their home because of the danger and political strife in their region of Ireland without consulting with her or helping her to understand. This state of misplaced guilt and misunderstanding, though, rules the novel. As the years then proceed, the characters are locked into this state, the parents in exile in Italy, the daughter awaiting word from them, and no one moving forward.

When change finally comes, and the widowed father returns home to find his adult daughter alive, their inability to communicate or to try to start fresh drives everyone into a state of melancholy that overtakes the remaining novel.

I am often a fan of tragedy, guilt, and melancholy, but it all takes place here without resolve. There is little progress or development. No one is awakened; there is no epiphany. These things aren’t always necessary, but the payoff for the reader comes in these sorts of changes. Even when the possibility of love enters the novel, drawn though it was with intuition and understanding, it is a dead end.

Quibble as I might with the course of events in the novel and the development of characters, what makes it all worse is the dryness of the writing. Other than the pained love of a minor character, and the growing mental illness of another, the world painted in the novel is plain and without light.

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