The Story of Lucy Gault – William Trevor – Booker Prize 2002

Last weekend I trawled through my previous reviews on this blog, especially to see if I should add a search facility and to remind myself of a few novels I’d recently read. What actually shocked me, besides the brevity of my early reviews, was the lack of Booker Prize longlisted, shortlisted or winners in amongst the reviews. I did originally set this blog up to review current and previous Booker Prize novels, it is amazing how my reading tastes have diverged from that original pursuit, however I do still hold hope of getting through all the old shortlists and staying current with upcoming announcements. This leads me to the news that next Tuesday the 2013 Man Booker Prize Longlist will be announced and I will post the names of those novels here and as per usual will attack them with gusto over the coming months. As an aside I thought I should probably return to my roots and review a Booker Prize shortlisted novel from previous years and given next Tuesday’s announcement coincides with my eldest son’s birthday I thought I’d select one from his year of birth 2002. “The Story of Lucy Gault” it was, the one on the bookshelf at my eye level.
Last week I reviewed “The Hunger Angel” a novel that explored silence through the prose and structure of the sentences, what wasn’t being said was silence enough. I then moved straight to a novel that actually explores, as one of the main themes, the consequences of not saying enough:
“But nervous of doing more harm than good, she said nothing” (p138)
As our novel opens, in 1921, Lucy Gault is a young girl, an only child, living in an elaborate Irish Estate with her parents and hired help. The house is under siege as Lucy’s father served in the Army and the locals want to teach him a lesson by raising his mansion to the ground. Captain Edward Gault (Lucy’s father) wounds a boy by shooting him in the shoulder and although reconciliation is sought, none is forthcoming and the Gault’s are forced to leave their home in search of peace abroad.
Of course Lucy is not consulted in this decision and she decides to run away, fleeing to the house of their recently redundant housekeeper, but on her journey she badly damages her ankle and can’t continue. Lucy’s parents believe she has drowned and leave Ireland in grief. Lucy is of course found alive by Henry, the hired help who stays on at the estate, and despite various attempts at finding her parents, there is no success. Lucy waits for their return:
For her part, Lucy did not wonder much about the nature of exile, accepting, with time, what had come about, as she did her lameness and the features that were reflected in her looking-glass. Had Canon Crosbie raised with her the question of going out into the world, she would have replied that the nature and tenets of her life had already been laid down for her. She waited, she would have said, and in doing so kept faith. Each room was dusted clean; each chair, each table, each ornament was as they were remembered. Her full summer vases, her bees, her footsteps on the stairs and on the landings, and crossing rooms and in the cobbled yard and on the gravel, were what she offered. She was not lonely; sometimes she could hardly remember loneliness. ‘Oh, but I’m happy,’ she would have reassured the clergyman had he asked her. ‘Happy enough, you know.’
This is a novel with a lot of contemplative passages, one where the futility of existence is explored through menial tasks, where unrequited love is blamed on fate, where it is easier to say nothing than to express one’s true feelings. Lucy’s mother and father maintain their marriage, each knowing the grief and pain the other is experiencing but never uttering a word, never offering support. The theme of not expressing one’s feelings is deeply interwoven in Lucy’s very fabric and her lack of verbalising her concerns about moving away at the start of the novel haunt her through every action thereafter – she can’t express love, her emotions are stifled, she merely exists.

A finely constructed work, that seems as though there is not a single word out of place, but personally one that was an easy read but where I couldn’t engage with any character, where Lucy’s fate did not really move me and the story, style or structure did not challenge me in any way. Completely inoffensive so it is hard to be critical of this work, but it will be one I will surely forget I’ve ever read. Have I moved on from the Booker Prize? Good grief……

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One thought on “The Story of Lucy Gault – William Trevor – Booker Prize 2002

  1. Tony – a timely reminder of a writer who might otherwise not come to anyone's notice in Australia (just as many in England will not have heard of Gerald Murnane). Sometimes,the first we hear of some writers is not when they win the Booker Prize but when they win the Nobel! Your review led to me check out more about William Trevor. I like this from the Guardian after Trevor had turned 80:


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