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by Rose Tremain

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


Trespass by Rose Tremain
© W.W. Norton & Company
W.W. Norton & Company, October 2010

Rose Tremain's Trespass is a cautionary tale of sorts. At once about boundaries both emotional and familial, Trespass tells the story of five aging characters as they struggle balancing independence with imposition. Anthony Verey is a disillusioned antique dealer who finally decides, at the age of seventy, to drastically change his life for what might be the last time. In a burst of spontaneity, he decides to look for a new house near his sister Veronica's home in the south of France. Veronica lives a simple gardener's life with her partner Kitty, but their stability is precariously tipped with Anthony's arrival. Early in the novel, Kitty wonders, "Doesn't every love need to create for itself its own protected space? And if so, why don't lovers understand better the damage trespass can do?" It's a question that's central to the novel, one that spreads through relationships of the heart as well as the blood.

Meanwhile, two local siblings, at a similarly late stage of their lives as Anthony and his sister, decide to sell Mas Lunel, their family's estate. Unfortunately the mas is owned solely by Aramon, and his sister Audrun feels too tight a bond with the house she grew up in. Living in a bungalow just outside Aramon's property line, she's haunted by memories both innocent and incestuous and will go to great lengths to keep Mas Lunel in the family.
Initially, Trespass is difficult to place in time. At its core, its story is timeless, and it takes a careful eye in the book's initial pages to finally settle it into present-day. Throughout Trespass, Tremain's characters are at a constant, quiet pull between the past and present; while predominantly caught up in their memories of a time more simple, the steady reminder of the contemporary creeps into Trespass by way of economic concerns. The lack of money coming into Anthony's antique store motivates him to leave London and encroach on Kitty and Veronica. Similarly, the half-a-million Euro quote Aramon receives for Mas Lunel triggers the dramatic rift between him and Audrun. It's with today's difficult economy that Tremain settles her characters in situ and Trespass can finally hit its stride.

In Trespass, an unhappy neighbor is a vengeful neighbor. It doesn't take long for Kitty to grow viscously loathsome of her new guest. Tremain shows her flair for subtle wryness as her characters grow increasingly malicious:
"In fact, what was preoccupying Kitty was the sandwich filling Anthony had chosen: Camembert and tomato. It thrilled her to remember that a friend of Veronica's, living not far from here, had died from eating unpasteurised cheese."

Similtaneously, Audrun hatches a plan against Aramon. Her motivation to save Mas Lunel is fueled by her wicked memories of Aramon and her father, and she will go to terrible lengths to protect her home and childhood. And suddenly, with Tremain's well-tempered command of prose, Trespass becomes an exquisitely written literary thriller. What first seems like a relatively predictable story becomes riddled with surprises and twists, causing the last hundred pages to barrel towards an unexpected finish.

Unfortunately, while wholly gripping, some readers will find difficulty in relating to the timeless conflict faced by Tremain's characters. Forgiveness of trespasses is an age-old concept, but the old age of Trespass's cast will surely leave some readers wanting more. While glorious in composition, Trespass is slightly limited in its capacity for connection, something that sadly prevents this book from really soaring.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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