Nine-year-old Lucy Gault is devastated when her parents plan to leave their ancestral estate in Ireland for a new home in England. As the servants are let go and the house is boarded up, Lucy decides to run away. But her disappearance sets off a series of misunderstandings that will change her family forever and will touch each inhabitant of her village.
Trevor spins a melancholy story of love, guilt, loyalty, and the hope for redemption that spans roughly 80 years. The writing is beautiful, particularly when he describes the Irish countryside and the characters' love of the land, from the blue hydrangeas to the forest bracken to the rising tide. I've read but didn't care for Trevor's Love and Summer, but The Story of Lucy Gault is definitely a winner, and I plan to read more of his work. Trevor is such a prolific writer that I'm sure I'll find other novels that I admire as much as this one.
First, there is the writing – at times spare and at other times quite dense, but never needlessly so. Without a story or plot or dialogue, it would be a pleasure to read William Trevor’s words. But then there is the story: of family and love and pain and grief and forgiveness and redemption and finding peace with one’s life.
I don’t want to summarize the plot because too much will be given away; suffice it to say this story unfolds over many decades and at its center is Lahardane, an old Irish house on the cliffs above the sea. Departures from Lahardane, lives lived fully there, and homecomings provide the bones of the story. Trevor creates such a distinct sense of place and sense of belonging there among his characters that when they venture away, it seems almost an unmooring.
I read much of this book with a lump in my throat and a burning behind my eyes. Trevor writes of loss and dislocation so beautifully and evokes so perfectly that ache that tells us we once had something good and true which now is lost. I loved this book and relished every moment spent reading it, despite the heartache.
”Her tranquility is their astonishment. For that they come, to be amazed again that such peace is there: all they have heard, and still hear now, does not record it. 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?
…They did not witness for themselves, but others did, the journey made to bring redemption; they only wonder why it was made, so faithfully and for so long. Why was the past belittled? Where did mercy come from when there should have been none left?
…She should have died a child; she knows that but has never said it to the nuns, has never included in the story of herself the days that felt like years when she lay among the fallen stones. It would have lowered their spirits, although it lifts her own because instead of nothing there is what there is.” (page 224-227)
This short novel packs quite a punch, and is told in simple yet lilting prose. There is a sadness that lingers over these words and the reader continuously yearns for some kind of reconciliation. This is my first Trevor experience and I am looking forward to exploring his story collections.
Set in Ireland, at the time that it was divided, Captain Gault, his wife and their daughter Lucy all live at the family home of Lahardane. One night, their dog gets poisoned; the Captain fires at a group of young men and hits one. His wife is convinced that because she's English, they have been marked for trouble; he tries to go and talk to the family but nothing helps. He then makes the decision that it's time for the family to leave Ireland. Lucy, who is just a little girl, believes that if she runs off, the parents will have to stay long enough to find her & might possibly change their minds. However, something happens & the parents can't find her -- they think she's drowned & make the decision that they should leave, setting off a number of tragic events that have an effect on everyone in the story. I will leave the rest so as not to spoil, but I will say that this book, as small as it is, is one to be savored and read slowly.
Personally, I really liked this book -- it is a sad but sweet story and will capture you from the beginning.
Lucy Gault is 8 years old when we meet her at the beginning of the book. Her parents are planning to move the family from their home in Lahardane, Ireland after a couple of incidents making it apparent that their home is no longer a friendly place - their dogs are poisoned, a foiled attempt to burn down their house leaves one of the perpetrators injured. Lucy doesn't want to leave, so she decides to run away. Evidence seems to point to her death, and from there the die is cast on all their lives.
The book can best be described as a meditation. It's about the coping mechanisms we have inborn with our personalities, and the ones we learn as life experiences shape us. It's also about the difficulties of forgiveness, and the struggle to feel whole when you've lost so much that's important to you. The book is pretty short, just over 200 pages, but I can't imagine racing through it in one sitting - it's so dense and atmospheric that I think you might suffocate if you stay too long inside its covers. That said, it isn't the type of book that's out of sight, out of mind either. Its themes will play around your mind when you're not reading, and after you've finished.
Recommended for: people who read the "missed encounters" ads in free newspapers, anyone who feels lucky that any of a number of bad decisions in their pasts didn't lead to tragedy.
Quote: "They lay in one another's arms, they talked, she read out to him something she liked in a book, they were companions on their journeys; and yet on days like this one, she belonged only to herself."
This is a wonderful, evocative novel tracing the life of the Gault family beginning during The Troubles in the twenties. Fearing reprisals against Irish nationalists and a previous attempt to burn down their family estate, Lahardane, the Captain Everard Gault and his wife Helene consider fleeing for the Continent. Lucy, their daughter, overhears them talking about moving, but wants to do anything but move from her home on the Irish seaside, the only place she has ever known. In an act of lapsarian rebellion, Lucy runs off into the woods abutting Lahardane just as the Gaults are getting ready to leave, and they end up having to leave without her. Later, the servants (a husband and wife named Henry and Bridget) that are left behind to tend the house stumble on Lucy, and decide to stay behind and raise her there.
She leads a reclusive life, socialized by only an old local canon, a solicitor charged with looking after the house – a displaced child in a world of adults - and the library of books her parents left behind. She meets and is dutifully courted by a young, earnest boy named Ralph who has been invited to be the tutor of a couple of local boys, and while she very much returns his affection, her sense of abandonment lingers, and whenever Ralph shows his romantic interest, she coolly refuses him. He leaves at the end of the summer, and much later Lucy sees in the newspaper that he has married another woman.
Very occasionally, we get flits of the life that Everard and Helene are leading in Europe. Her heart is understandably broken, but she can’t stand of returning to Lahardane even though Lucy is still there. She dies of influenza before she can ever see her daughter again. However, as an old man Captain Gault eventually makes his way back to Lahardane to see Henry, Bridget, and Lucy. While the servants understandably expect Lucy to be thrilled with his return, her relationship with him seems just as inadequate as her relationship with Ralph. Long silences and short, terse replies from Lucy dominate their conversations, even as her father tries to engage her meaningfully, and we immediately know that this is not the silence of rejection, but rather one of a young girl who was forced into an exile all her own, though not a physical one. While he is at Lahardane, one of the boys, named Horahan, who tried to burn down the estate decades earlier shows up and tells of his part in the attempted arson, and he expressed his deep, heart-felt anguish and regret at what he has done. One night, Captain Gault quietly passes away in his sleep.
In her later years, she visits Horahan in an asylum where he has been driven to the verge of madness from his guilt, comforting and talking to him. It is finally in Horahan, who has riven the Gault family into pieces, whom Lucy finally finds her redemption. The end of the final sees Lucy passing the days as an elderly woman. On the radio, she hears “If you’re not on the Internet, you’re not at the races.” The sudden mention of the Internet in a story that started some seventy years before is a jarring reminder of the impersonality of history, and the relentlessness of its march.
Some reviews have found this book depressing, sad, or pessimistic. All is not sweetness and light in the lives of the Gaults, but Trevor injects the comforts of consolation and possible salvation through meaningful human relationships. Compared with the work of John McGahern whose work is downright bleak, Trevor doesn’t see the vagaries as time as wholly malevolent. As Lucy later realized, “What happens simply did.” This novel is superior in both the expansiveness of its themes – of love, sin, regret, meditation on history, and the possibilities of reconciliation – and the tight, sharp elegance of Trevor’s prose. Above all, as a first-time reader of his work, I was struck by the poignancy that never devolved into mawkish sentimentality, and the honesty that never lowered itself to bare confession.
By the time I was halfway done with “The Story of Lucy Gault,” I was already enjoying it so much I had already ordered another William Trevor novel. Trevor has also published about as many volumes of short stories as novels, which may very well tempt me out of my continued disinterest in the form. If they are anywhere near as beautifully done as “The Story of Lucy Gault,” they will be nothing short of endlessly rewarding.
I have read many of Trevor's short stories, but this is my first of his novels. Though this is wonderful and you should read it, I have liked Trevor's short stories a good deal more than I liked this. I tried to identify why I like the short stories more, and I have two theories. The first is that it is not a matter of form, but rather of Trevor being an old man when he wrote this. His standard feeling of melancholy, which has pervaded all the work I have read, is notched up from melancholy to frustration at his obsolescence and the obsolescence of his characters. My second theory is that it is not Trevor's frustration but my own that is invading the reading experience. What comes off as characters' equanimity in the stories I have read feels like the characters' plodding inertia in this novel. Is that because the increased length means I am reading about a litany of incomprehensibly terrible choices and non-choices rather than just a couple? Is this because the characters in this book just work harder to avoid conflict (thereby creating conflict) than those on earlier works? Damned if I know. Whatever the reason I was realllllly frustrated by people not doing anything, of running from understanding or resolution as fast as they could. That is why this is a 4-star rather than a 5-star for me. When people talk the language is peppered with "I can't not" and other phrases that imply an intense desire to not act, to not feel. I don't want to spoil the book so I won't say more, but I will say the central event in the book could have been resolved simply through letting anyone in the world know where characters were living. This is something that pretty much anyone with any connections (and these people had connections), even people with depression and/or PTSD, would do. A large property is left in the care of caretakers, and yet for a lifetime the property owners do not contact the caretakers or even provide their contact information in case of emergency. There is a passing reference at the very end of the book to this now old person seeing people walk down the streets with their phones, and to her hearing about the internet and having no idea what that meant, and maybe that is my problem here. Having lived so long in this age I cannot get my mind around people disappearing -- disappearing is something that is pretty hard to do these days. Maybe this frustration is entirely my fault. In any event, it does not at all ruin the read, it just changes it.
One more note, when I read this the song Delta Dawn kept playing in my head. While I really like music, I have never been much of a Helen Reddy fangirl, but that totally came up. This vision of a girl, then a woman, caught up by the regrets of rejecting love and spending her days waiting for something unattainable while wearing the old abandoned dresses of her old abandoning mother just got me there. I need to start reading more books that make me think of action like Party in the USA or Hot in Here, or even Lust for Life.
The book is the story of Lucy, her immediate family and their acquaintances. At the start Lucy is barely past the toddler stage, but she is a headstrong and independently-minded young girl who does not want to leave Lahardane, where she and her family seem to belong. Lahardane is a house an farm near Enniseala in Ireland. The problem is that her parents, Captain Everard and Heloise, have foreign, even English connections. The story begins in nineteen twenty-one, a time of revolution and change in Ireland and there are some who now are not as welcoming as they once were. There has already been an incident when Captain Everard shot and wounded a young man, believing that he and his friends had come to the house with an intention to do harm beyond petty theft. The time is right to leave the place, the couple conclude.
But Lucy is of this place. She has known nowhere else. She cannot contemplate such a change. But she is young. She will soon learn, soon forget, no matter how strongly she feels that her very existence is entwined with this place, this country, the sea, this community and its people she knows so well.
What separates Lucy from her parents might stretch the imagination of some readers, but it remains both possible and credible. In an era where individuals stay permanently connected as they roam, it might be hard to imagine an age when people are not just off the radar – partly because that had not even been invented then! – when they remain both impossible to locate and impossible to contact. If one separated party did not know the other’s whereabouts, then the same was true the other way round. And if someone decided to cut with the past and start afresh, then they were separated from their former life for good, as long as they wanted to stay that way. But not in this novel…
Everard and Heloise are clearly quite wealthy people. They can do their own thing, virtually wherever they want. In the first half of the twentieth century, their desire to wander did not entertain anything outside of Europe, but that provided sufficient scope to satisfy their needs. Thus they meander into new lives, pursued by a sense of bereavement.
Lucy, on the other hand, got her way and stayed at Lahardane. She picked up an illness and an injury along the way, but one was quite soon cured and the other – well, the other became less significant as time passed, as did other considerations that were initially pressing. She grew up, loved a man, but dare not act on her feelings, since they were usually located elsewhere. She saw a war come and go, and perhaps did much the same with a life.
What happens to Lucy and her parents is fundamental to this book. But the main reason for reading it, and the main impression it creates, is its portrayal of west of Ireland life. Here are the conflicts, the supports, the tensions and the loyalties that characterised relations that remained, at the time, essentially colonial. There are issues of social class and the sustainability of livelihoods. Religion, of course, is never far from the agenda. But underpinning everything is a determination to survive, as individuals and as a community, to carry on despite everything that life and fate throw at you. Lucy does carry on, but in other ways her life stops when separation is understood, its overbearing reality never being accepted. She surely wants to realise her desires, but what are those desires? Does she allow herself the mental space to acknowledge them?
The Story of Lucy Gault is a hauntingly beautiful book. The writing is poetic, as well as crystal clear. The subject matter is murky, however, because this is a book about people who love one another, in their own, albeit detached ways.
I do not generally do well with ‘redemptive’ tales if there is no particular ‘happy’ or ‘tragic’ ending to hang one’s final feelings for a book on. Lucy Gault’s story was engagingly written and the plight of the characters very real, but if a book frustrates my need for things to be definitively resolved at the end (in other words, if the characters’ journeys have amounted to even the smallest revelation, a change of circumstance or moral / ethical consequence) then I cannot put the book aside with any sense that I am better off for having read it; and is in the ending that The Story of Lucy Gault seem weak (particularly when compared to the strength of the book’s beginning).
It might be a flaw in my reading as much as in William Trevor’s writing; regardless, my impression is that I could have happily stopped reading three quarters of the way in to The Story of Lucy Gault and been more pleased with it than I was when I actually reached the end.
I found it mind-numbingly dull. You might not. But I did.
Beautifully written - lrical and in the language of the 20's but what a boring read!
Lucy lives a life guided by "her obedience to an intention that was entirely her own"(p 209). It is this that both gives her strength to continue to make a home for herself at Lahardane, but it also leads her to make some unwise decisions. These decisions raise the melancholy of her life story to tragedy, or at least semi-tragedy. She demonstrates perseverence that is fueled by a certain strength of character. She delights in the natural surroundings at Lahardane but also the life of her own mind. Lucy loves to read from a young age and she has access to a well-stocked library at Lahardane. During the course of her story the narrator mentions her reading several times, but the title of one book she read seemed an appropriate metaphor for her life, The Diary of a Nobody by by George Grossmith and his brother Weedon Grossmith (p 94). The irony of the title is doubled by the comic content of Grossmiths' short novel. Trevor sets her story against the backdrop of Irish life and history, with the parallels between them never deep below the surface. The result is an exquisite novel that was a joy to read.