Trespass by Rose Tremain is about two familes, in fact two sets of brothers and sisters whose lives become interlinked. Anthony Verey, renowned antiques expert fallen on hard times, takes himself off to visit his elder sister Veronica who has made her home in the Cevennes with her new partner Kitty. As Anthony reclaims his sister’s loyalty, Kitty’s fragile happiness dissolves. In the same village, local spinster Audrun lives in a shoddy bungalow while her brother inhabits the mas or family farm-house. As he descends into alcoholism and paranoia, the mas is put on the market, tempting Anthony to put down roots and potentially robbing Audrun of her birthright.
The narrative is neatly framed by a grisly scene near the river. The atmosphere evokes the kind of brooding somnolence that feels just right for rural France and there’s great local colour in the shape of abandonned silk worm sheds. As the story goes on, there’s plenty of tension and I was never in danger of falling by the wayside. But. Yes, there is a but coming. I’m a huge fan of Rose Tremain with Restoration one of my all-time favourites and The Road Home one of last year’s top reads. By comparison, Trespass was not exactly disappointing, but I did feel oddly detached from prooceedings, because of my difficulty in engaging fully with any of the main characters. The first we meet at close quarters is self-absorbed and self-pitying Anthony who also compromises our sympathy for the stronger sister who can’t stop looking after him even in old age. Audrun is the victim of a damaged and damaging family, but even here my sympathy was never fully engaged.
Perhaps that’s the point – that for most of us, whatever world we inhabit, personal relationships are shackled by family history and loyalties. It’s certainly the case in this finely crafted book where the ending provides a degree of resolution but no real satisfaction for any of the main players.