Trespass – Rose Tremain

And so to the first of the books that I (and fingers crossed hopefully a lot of you) are reading for Trespassing With Tremain, a way of me remembering my book loving Gran and in a strange way reading along with her through another of her favourite authors and one who she was always telling me I really should have read. Why start with Trespass? Well, it was the book of Rose Tremain’s that Gran kept saying that I simply had to read as she thought it was the most me, which as you will see I found rather interesting after finally having read it…

Vintage Books, hardback, 2010, fiction, 272 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

Trespass is one of those infinitely clever novels that pleases, perplexes and plays with its reader. As it opens we follow a young, rather spoilt, girl Melodie who is struggling to fit in at her knew school and so on a trip out runs away into the countryside where she discovers something horrendous amongst the tranquillity. What she has discovered we have no idea because we are swiftly taken away from this moment into the lives of two pairs of siblings, soon beginning to realise that in some way one or both of these siblings have something to do with whatever it is that poor Melodie discovers, but what and how?

From the beginning of Trespass I have to say I was hooked in with the mystery and the promise of darkness yet of course a book has to deliver far more than just those two things to really stand out and Trespass does that in spades. The mystery is very much at the fore and then gets sent brooding in the background awaiting its moment as we then get caught up in the worlds of two siblings. Firstly Audrun Lunel, who lives alone in a isolated in the woodlands in a ramshackle bungalow on the edges of her old family home Mas Lunel, now inhabited by her alcoholic brother Aramon. Secondly Anthony Verey, a man once famous for his antique dealings but who has fallen on harder times and is looking to escape his life in London and so heads to the south of France and his sister Veronica.

Of course as Trespass goes on you wonder how on earth these two pairs of siblings will become entwined in something that we know will end darkly. It isn’t until we discover that Aramon is keen to sell off Mas Lunel, much to Audrun’s horror, and Anthony is very much looking for somewhere to live that these people’s lives entwine for a moment. Even then Tremain cleverly keeps us guessing as to what will come because what I thought was going to happen didn’t, in fact the book kept twisting tighter and tighter as it went on.  I don’t want to give too much away though, suffice to say I had to read it in one sitting because I wanted to know what the heck was going to happen, to whom and how.

Episodes, the doctor called them. Short episodes of the brain. And the doctor – or doctors, for it wasn’t always the same one – gave her pills and she took them. She lay in her bed, swallowing pills. She put them on her tongue, like a Communion wafer. She tried to imagine herself transfigured by them. She lay in the Cevenol night, listening to the scoop-owl, to the breathing of the land, trying to envisage a chemical river in her blood. She saw this river as a marbled swirl of purple, crimson and white; the colours drifted in skeins, expanded into almost-recognisable shapes, like clouds. Sometimes, she wondered whether these envisagings were inappropriate. She’d also been told that her mind was liable to ‘inappropriate ideas’. It could imagine terrible things.

As Trespass unravels Tremain does something that l love, she makes the characters and their histories and relationships unravel with it. Yet with the two sets of siblings Tremain makes this all the more heightened. As Anthony flees to Veronica we watch a pair of siblings where one has always looked out for the other, V being the big protective sister. Yet once in the same space this relationship becomes cloying, particularly for V’s lover (the brilliantly named) Kitty Meadows who has never liked Anthony and has always vied for V’s attention with. Does familial love always beat passionate love, can you compete with someone who has been in your lovers life infinitely?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the selling of Mas Lunel is the final straw in Audrun and Aramon’s strained relationship. The siblings have not been close for years despite the fact that Audrun lives on the edge of the land of Mas Lunel, she only goes into her old family home if she absolutely must. What is it that keeps her away and why can two siblings who live so close be so utterly apart? The dynamics and mysteries within the mystery unravel slowly but surely, making the novel only the darker and the characters all the more compelling.

What also makes Trespass compelling are the themes it looks at. Most obviously is the theme of sibling relationships, which brings in family histories and secrets which are always a fertile ground for a novel. There is also the theme of sexuality with both Veronica and her ‘friend’ Kitty but also Arthur and his certain secret proclivity. There is also the sense of trespassing you might think that sounds rather obvious yet Tremain looks at this in many ways. Trespassing on the boundaries of land or personal space, trespassing on relationships, trespassing on other countries and their heritage with the theme of rich Europeans buying French land meaning locals can’t. I could go on. At its heart though, both with the siblings secrets and Melodie (don’t forget about her), there is the theme of how the things we witness or experience as children affect us in later life.

In all this darkness there is a wicked sense of humour which makes it all the more delightfully gothic in its tone. There is the same darkness in Tremain’s humour which offers some light(er) relief in parts both in some of the peripheral characters and their set pieces, like Lloyd Palmer and his accidental pant wetting when laughing which made me giggle very loudly. You will also often find yourself often smiling wryly as Tremain gets her characters to do something we all wish we would do and never dare.

Out of her kitchen window, she watched him toiling in the afternoon heat. Sun rays bounced off his bald head. He was a small man, but full of petty cruelty, she could tell, proud of his ability to wound. Audrun crumbled some black earth from the geranium pot on her kitchen window sill and threw it in with the ground coffee because she knew this could have the power to quell her anxiety, to watch the surveyor imbibing geranium compost and never knowing it.

Trespass is an utterly marvellous novel. One that I don’t really feel I could do full justice without writing something almost as long as the book itself – which I should add manages all the above in just over 250 pages. It is a beautifully written and intricately crafted gothic tale, which has a slight evocation of a fairy tale in some ways, and also the pace and mystery of a thriller. I cannot wait to read more of Tremain’s work.

So you see it seems Gran was right, Trespass is indeed a very ‘me’ book. I am only cross that I didn’t listen to her a few years ago and read it with her at the time as we could have had a real natter about it, and about why she would pair me with such a dark twisty book? It has also broken the spell of being unable to write a review, which has been a bit of a black cloud over me of late. Anyway, who else has read Trespass and what did you make of it? Had you read Tremain before, if so how does this compare and if not what did you think of this as a first foray? I am very much looking forward to The Road Home, which just happens to be the next Trespassing with Tremain title, as I think I might become quite the Tremain fan!


Filed under Books of 2014, Review, Rose Tremain, Trespassing with Tremain, Vintage Books

12 responses to “Trespass – Rose Tremain

  1. Really good book and I read it straight through too. Very creepy near the end as things turn out. Very well written.

  2. jananav

    Simon, I loved it! And your review says all the reasons why, so no need for me to elaborate. This was also my first Tremain, but I’m now well into The Road Home (much different, but excellent as well). A heartfelt thanks to you, and Gran of course, for the recommendation. I might add that I listened to the audio version which was excellently narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

  3. q

    Thank u Simon and Gran…this was my 1st Tremain also…very ambitious.
    Lots of food for thought…your review does capture it. One thought that held throughout for me was th e idea that if we ‘hold on to something’, ‘think it is OURS’ then we also suffer from many ‘trespasses’, anything that touches our concrete image of our relationships, our past, our youth, our image…anything we think is permenent or ours, can be walked on and entered and we feel the loss.
    Amazing author…thank u again for letting us do this together.

  4. Ana

    Not my first Tremain by any means, I have loved Music and Silence, and The Colour , Restoration. Trespass surprised me. I found it so dark and sinister, exploring so many areas of trespass, whether it be geographic, economic, personal, sexual and on and on. This novel stayed with me, nudging me to remember and analyse long after I had completed the read.
    I will never take the term for granted again!!

    My copy was from my local charity shop and had languished too long on the TBR list, so big thanks to your dear Gran for the impetus to take it up and lose myself in the intricate exploration of all things dark and disturbing.

  5. drharrietd

    This is almost the only Tremain I haven’t read, and I think I spotted it on the bookshelf the other day. Here goes! Great review — Gran would be proud of you and probably is looking down from somewhere and grinning.

  6. Thanks Simon, that makes me sound like it is indeed ‘my sort of book’ which probably explains why I bought it in the first place!

  7. sharkell

    Great review! I also loved this book, especially how Tremain explored all the different meanings of “trespass”. I loved it so much I have requested a copy of The Road Home and hope to get to it before you post your review (I was only going to read copies of the books that I had on my tbr but I’m now very tempted to read the lot with you).

  8. „The Way I Found Her” (1997) was the first novel I read by Rose Tremain. „Trespass” is my second one, and I’m glad I followed Simon’s incentive, in memory of his beloved Gran.
    First, the title: the meaning of trespass, a word which comes from French (which is not without significance for this novel), in medieval English. Meanings: transgression, sin, infringement, usurpation; malefaction, offense, violation, wrongdoing. In law: the crime of going on someone’s land without permission. Figuratively, invasion of one’s privacy, intrusion.
    All of these acts are perpetrated in this book. In the span of a terrible scream coming from a scared ten years old girl, at the end of the first chapter, all the trespasses come to be unveiled, one by one, page by page, involving several characters. The beginning contains the unanticipated denouement: “at the very corner of her vision, she (Melodie) sees something which should’t be there. At first look she doesn’t recognize what it is. She has to look again. She has to stare. Then she starts screaming “. This happened in the southern France.
    The following chapters introduce several apparently uncorrelated characters. In London, we meet Anthony Verey, 64 years old, medium hight, abundant grey heir. A renowned antiquarian, he is a repressed homosexual, lives alone, remembers fondly his mother, his boyhood. He has an older sister, Veronica. Then, we are again in France, in Cevennes, with Audrun Lunel, a spinster, 64 years old, who has never moved from her village of La Callune. Her brother, Aramon Lunel, a drunkard. Veronica Verey, a garden designer, lives with her lesbian friend, Kitty (a failed painter), in a stone farm, in a village south of Anduze, in the Gard, that is the same southern region as Audrun and Aramon. All these loose threads begin to come together, revealing step by step the different parts of an yet unknown story. A tapestry of different lives entangled together. Horrendous visions of revengeful crimes, grotesque enemas, torturing, hatred so intense as to push one to murder. Trespassing of one’s property (Audrun is accused by Aramon of invading his land), trespassing of one’s privacy (Kitty abhors Anthony’s presence at their farm, the fatuous Englishman who has come to rob her of the beautiful life she had with her beloved Veronica). Evil, vices, strangely distorted visions seem to be the stuff this novel is made of.
    Maybe, it was Rose Tremain’s intention to let the reader feel the novel is somehow unfinished. A kind of „open text” (opera aperta), allowing multiple interpretations.

  9. LauraC

    My first Tremain. Thanks Simon and Gran! I loved it. Will start The Road Home soon-I borrowed it from the library at the same time as Trespass.

  10. Dee King

    Thank you, Simon, for leading me to Rose Tremain and to your grandma. I had never heard of Rose Tremain, so “Trespass” is my first. I am so in its grips right now! I love family stories. Their deep entanglements make for such rich tales, and “Trepass” is no exception.

  11. Juliet Stevenson narrated this audiobook and it was nothing short of amazing. What I remember especially well from that experience were the scenes where Armonk became upset. Pure magic. Your Gran left you a gift by loving this book.

  12. Pingback: The Darkness of Wallis Simpson – Rose Tremain | Savidge Reads

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