One story too many narrators

December 2, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Literary Fiction | Leave a comment

Rose Tremain ‘Trespass’ Chatto & Windus, August 2010

Rose Tremain’s literature is a beacon of great writing and she herself is an ambassador of the literary world. A teacher of creative english who graduated from the Sorbonne she counts among her influences Gabriel Garcia Marquez and William Golding and is enamoured with the modern magic realism style of writing. She has judged the Booker twice and was an Orange Prize winner for fiction in 2008.

She is predominantly an historical fiction writer and it is to her credit that all of her works are completely different in style, tone and mood. Her 2003 novel ‘The Colour’ which tells the story of two young newlyweds emigrating to New Zealand and getting swept up in the gold rush of the 1860’s, is one of the most moving and well executed novels I have ever read.

In ‘Trespass’ Tremain’s latest offering we encounter Aramon, a brute of a man and a rapidly descending alcoholic who lives among the hills of Cevennes in southern France, in the time of his life when he is desperate to sell his majestic but dilapidated home to a foreigner to use as a second home. His sister Audrun lives beside him in a small modern bungalow. In a neighbouring area two women live together, Kitty a watercolourist and Veronica a successful garden designer to whom Veronica’s brother Anthony Verey comes to visit from London. Anthony is a celebrated and rich Antiques dealer who decides to spend his retirement in the south of France to be near his sister, and begins a search for his perfect home with life-altering consequences.

Tremain explores the idea of trespass on many levels in this novel. The trespassing of the English tourist into the gentile way of life in southern France through the polemic rants of the local mayor, the intrusion of Anthony on his sisters way of life, the intrusion of Audrun’s little bungalow on Aramon’s life and the trespass that occurs when social boundaries are broken. These dichotomy’s in this book don’t work. Why? Although Tremain’s writing is compelling the sense of the story is lost as there are too many narrators and too many large ideas introduced throughout the novel that require more space to be developed. This disparity of many individual stories causes a lack of overall connection between the cast of characters and after the halfway mark the book’s chemistry fizzles out and it degenerates into a who-dunnit game.

The character of Kitty is the most intriguing and real of all the characters portrayed however she is a minor player in this story who becomes relegated with time and disinterest from many parties. Tremain attempts to say something original with this work but I feel it should have been either scaled back into a novella or scaled up into a roaring epic of a novel where the characters come to know themselves much better and have a more natural atonement by the novels end.

‘Trespass’ was longlisted for this years Booker Prize. It is a good read, it has villans and innocents and Tremain’s writing as always is evocative and laced with sensitivity for her characters and settings. The characters own human failings cleverly bring about their own personal demise but the story is too heavily plotted and full for the characters to survive it. They become victims of their  battered around by the plot and fail to interweave in meaningful ways.

Tremain beautifully depicts the Mistral that blows and carries a cathartic fire through the Cevannes at a point in the novel unfortunately it seems to have taken the heart of the book with it too.

Haiku; In France’s valleys, families wage quiet war, Rose Tremain observes.

Click here to view this book on DLR libraries catalogue

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