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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
The Story of Lucy Gault
Book cover for

Prolific Irish writer William Trevor's latest novel.

"The Story of Lucy Gault" is about belonging and loss.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

In order to enjoy this, did you have to buy the premise that Lucy's parents would not come back to the house ever, or would not be found? Could you enjoy it despite that?

I think, strangely enough, I found a way to enjoy it just by being absorbed in the central idea of it, which is really what happens.

How can you have a life when most things that you would consider essential, connection to other people, love, hope, ambition, all of these things are stripped away.

What happens when you have very little left in life? It reminds me somewhat of Dostoevsky. I was reading Crime and Punishment the other day.

There was a moment where a character considers suicide and he considers whether he would die or stand on a cliff ledge halfway down a cliff and stand there for the rest of his life. In a way, this book poses a similar question to that, which is that when you have very little left, is it better to give up or just to carry on?

This book looks at what happens when you choose to carry on. When you choose to live despite everything else. As a consequence, it has a tragedy to it but it also has a kind of fragile beauty as well. I was quite captivated by it.

Miss Haversham by any other name?

I think it's a very puzzling book, in a way, because it seems to be moving so slowly because of the detail and the attention that Trevor gives to it, and the way he creates these still, monochrome pictures with tiny little details of people eating cake or using sign language or playing with a dog, or whatever, but in fact it's moving terribly fast.

It's hurtling along. In a way, it's like old age itself where you are moving slowly but the days are telescoped and to you each takes a minute.

There is something extraordinarily allegorical about it. I don't want to sound too pompous about this, but in a way it's about the Irish concept of history. The Irish refusal to let go ideas that are totally unhelpful and they are living in a state of suspended animation.

Just as Lucy says, "I am not going to live. My life is on hold because I did a bad thing once and I was disobedient." It's so funny in 2001 mentality to think of this child as having done something naughty, when in fact no-one was paying her any attention and she slipped from their view.

I can see what he is doing with this narrative and it's extraordinarily subtle, but I am not sure that it works. In the end, there is something very unsatisfactory about it.

It's partly to do with the way the rest of Ireland is presented. The actual wild Irish are either mad, mute or keening. They do seem to me to be aliens in a way. You can't do that. Trevor cannot do that, whether he is an honorary knight or not.

It's not about Ireland. It's about people whose lives have been stilled or stopped by chance events and how they go on with their lives.

How they live without having anything to do, as in the rather implausible case, the parents go on with nothing to do for the next 30 years.

They spend the day without a backward glance to the house, even though they still own it.


If you put it all aside there is some wonderful thoughts and ideas in there. There is one particular passage; "How little comfort there is in the ghosts of day dreams." I found it quite disturbing and unsatisfying, but a sad book?

I didn't find it sad at all. I found the description of the stilled lives very lyrical. I found it very beautiful.

Exactly. There is a passage close to the end where Lucy says something like she should have died a child but she carried on living, because instead of nothing, there is what there is.

I loved that moment. I loved that line.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Panel
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