Jul/Aug 2003 Book Reviews

The Story of Lucy Gault

William Trevor
Viking (2002) 228 pages

reviewed by Kevin McGowin

Ireland, early 20th-century: in the midst of a volatile political climate, a family is forced to move in a hurry. They go to France, believing their young daughter dead—but she's not. Lost while visiting her favorite local places for what she believes to be the last time, among the crags and cliffs by the sea, an item of clothing caught in a branch seems proof to the horrified family and friends that she is gone, drowned.

William Trevor's riveting and suspenseful novel is the work of an experienced and masterful storyteller. More conventional in plot and form than most books I review, I can tell you no more than the information in that first paragraph unless I want to do a book report, not a book review. The review is that this novel is captivating, horrifying, tender, and astoundingly beautiful. Trevor writes not a word too few or a word too many, and his plotting and narrative timing are damn near close to perfect.

Genius, it's probably not. But I'm getting increasingly tired of writers who shoot the moon every single time. I've read Trevor's stories, and there as here find him to be a superb craftsman in an established British prose tradition—but what makes him stand out is his empathy: the capacity to genuinely affect the reader—and the lyrical atmosphere; his uncanny ability to create a lush literary landscape peopled with those crippled by gut-wrenching anxieties and pain. The result is a stylistic and narrative resonance of taut and tempestuous power.

So let me consider my Audience, or at least the "type" of reader I think that most often is in this forum. If you want something fast-paced and saucy, you won't find it here. But if you can enjoy a novel by, say, Graham Greene, or appreciate the unique talent involved in writing such a book... then the present volume is better even than that. Or at least it won't let you down. For when it comes to telling a story, lots of people can do it. But for me, when the story is told well, in a traditional way, and yet the feeling it leaves me with is best described as "eerie" or "disquieting"—then maybe it wasn't so traditional after all.


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