Ben Dutton's Reviews > The Story of Lucy Gault

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
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's review
Feb 07, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2010

** spoiler alert ** William Trevor’s novel, The Story of Lucy Gault, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2002, when I picked it up along with some of the other nominees. It was won that year by Yann Martel for Life of Pi, the only one of those novels that I actually got around to reading. I mentioned earlier in this blog that I recently unpacked my books, all of which had been in storage in my father’s attic. I have been meaning for a while now to buy some of William Trevor’s short fiction having never read him, so I plucked this out as I knew it retained a strong reputation amongst connoisseurs of literature.

The novel opens in rural Cork in 1921. Ireland is in turmoil, and one night a group of men approach the Gault home, Lahardane, with the intention of firing the house, but a single shot from Captain Everard Gault scares them off. It is enough for the Gault family, however, who plan their escape back to England. However, an accident sees eight-year old Lucy separated from her family, who now believe her dead, and they leave Lahardane, destined never to return, unaware that their daughter lives. To say more of this plot would be to ruin it, and already I have said too much.

From this simple premise, Trevor’s tale spins out to take in decades, and comment upon the changing face of Ireland. His prose is very subtle, and its deeper resonances are not quick to settle in the subconscious. His is a work that needs to percolate, and when it does the power is incredible. He says much more than most writers say in novels twice as long, and often says it more powerfully. It is no wonder that The Observer said of him: “[He is] the most astute observer of the human condition currently writing in fiction.”

The subtleties of Trevor’s prose hide deeper connections too. If you read casually you are moved and affected by the power of the central story, but if you scratch its surface, you begin to tease out themes of responsibility, of history, of the cycle of history. It takes in fascism, intolerance, love, faith, loss, guilt, pain, and community. It is also a story about stories: just look at that title again: it is the story of Lucy Gault, but it is also the story of Ireland, of Europe, of family. All of these things, and more besides, simmer under the surface, they come up at you at the most unexpected moments, and cast new light on things that have come before, a prism reflecting light. I suspect the true depth and grave beauty of The Story of Lucy Gault will only come through rereading – I know I will be picking up the Collected Stories, and so I know I will come back to this moving elegiac novel. You should hear The Story of Lucy Gault too.
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