Between the Covers
In last year’s Orange Prize-winning book The Road Home, Rose Tremain traced the gritty but uplifting journey of an impoverished Eastern European man arriving in London to find the streets were paved with hardship. Trespass is like the leaner and edgier return trip.
Set in the enchanting valleys and gorges of Cévennes in southern France, this is no rose-coloured jaunt about jaded foreigners finding glamorous new lives in quaint villages with permanent sun, endearing locals and charming old houses to renovate. Trespass leads us into starker territory.
When a bullied Cévennes schoolgirl runs away from a school picnic, she stumbles on something in the river “that shouldn’t be there”. This occurs on the land of the brutish Aramon Lunel, who has inherited half of his tyrannical father’s estate. An alcoholic who mistreats his dogs, Aramon sniffs opportunity when he learns there is money to be made from cashed-up foreigners.
While Aramon has netted the family farmhouse, his sister Audrun has been left with “an ugly little bungalow” in the adjoining woods. Afflicted with epilepsy, Audrun walks her land “keeping vigil”. Others regard her as being “confused”. From behind her lace curtains Audrun observes her brother “wrecking” the farmhouse and luring hapless buyers.
Into this combustible family feud sweeps the self-absorbed London antiques dealer, Anthony Verey. No longer “the Anthony Verey” of yesteryear, he is desperate to flee his increasingly “abject life”. Surely his older sister Veronica, who lives in the Cévennes, should rescue him. To the horror of Veronica’s lover Kitty, Anthony elbows his way into their apparently idyllic world of gardening and art. After monopolising Veronica’s attention, he looks for a house nearby to renovate and showcase his treasured antiques, his “beloveds”.
Aramon Lunel’s farmhouse seems perfect – except for Audrun’s bungalow “blighting the view” which Aramon suddenly claims sits on his land.
Although I was not completely convinced by the schoolgirl’s voice in the opening chapter, Trespass soon settles into gripping narrative via a mosaic of adult points of view. Having conjured up an intoxicating natural setting, Tremain cleverly scratches away at the surface to reveal the anxieties, complexities and competing realities of contemporary rural life. While all the protagonists exhibit degrees of envy, treachery, opportunism, xenophobia and selfishness, there are occasional flashes of kindness and redemption. The book is perhaps most rewarding in its delicate unravelling of the long-term effects of childhood damage and lingering sibling rivalry.
Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.