Thursday, May 25, 2017

Reading William Trevor

Today I finished The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor, one of my favorite writers. When I came to the last page, sad that the story was coming to an end, I thought at once of how this tale and Trevor’s writing style had influenced me. The author is a quiet, careful writer, who takes the time to let the characters live and breathe on the page. There is no rushing about, no surprises out of the usual twists and turns of a life in a rural corner of Ireland.

Lucy Gault is just eight years old when the violence reaches a pitch in Ireland, and as a landowner married to an Englishwoman, her father Everard Gault comes to the unhappy conclusion that he and his family must leave the country he loves. As the day of departure nears, young Lucy has plans of her own, running away to the home of a favorite housemaid. But something happens, and she disappears. Everyone searches for her fruitlessly, and the conclusion is drawn that she has drowned after they find one of her missing sandals and an abandoned blouse on the beach. Stricken, the Gaults abandon Ireland for what they believe is forever. When Lucy is found weeks later in the woods, crippled with a broken ankle, the family solicitor is unable to reach her parents. And so begins her solitary life.

The novel held me in its gentle narrative, moving along seemingly at the pace of Lucy’s life in the care of the family servants, Henry and Bridget, who remained to tend the cattle and bees and gardens. At certain moments, a scene included an illusion to the future, or a knife was picked up. My mystery-writing mind expected a swiftness in plotting now, but Trevor held to his plan, and the story continued on its fluid way.

Throughout the novel I felt several opportunities for the author to change direction, to speed up the story, notch up the suspense, deepen the conflict. But he never took these pathways. Instead, we ached for Lucy’s mother, who never knew her daughter was found alive, and we ached for the young man, Ralph, who lived with a different loss.

I’m sure a number of readers would have found this book unpleasantly slow and dull, but I found it held me, page after page. I found something else. As much as I looked forward to reading this, and as often as I stayed up late to read a few more pages in this very slim volume, the pace slowed my reading. This book is shorter than the average mystery, but I spent twice as long reading it. Every word, every phrase seemed to matter. I took the time to be with Lucy in her story, and in a different world.

Trevor's language is simple and direct, his characters uncomplicated by the outer world but their depth of living in constricted circumstances is fully realized. Despite the pace and nature of the story, which recalls a much earlier time and style of writing, the novel was first published in 2002.

For a change of pace, you will find my books at the sites here:

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