Postal Reading group
June 2020
Notes on the book Trespass by Rose Tremain

This is the second time that I have read Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass. I believe the first time was for another reading group a few years ago, but I can’t remember exactly when. Although I could remember the basic plot, I did re-read the book, and was glad that I did as I had forgotten the details of the ending.

The story opens with Anthony Verey, an antiques dealer facing a diminishing trade at his London shop, deciding to visit his sister Veronica in the South of France with a possible view to retiring there. Meanwhile, in that Southern landscape an isolated farmhouse is owned by Aramon Lunel haunted by his violent past, while his sister dreams of retribution for the events in her past. Somehow, Anthony will affect all of these people, and his visit will have catastrophic consequences for all involved.

This is the third novel by Rose Tremain which I have read, the other two being The Colour and The Gustav sonata. All of these seemed quite different, so I find it difficult to discern any underlying features in her writing. However, what I do remember is that all of them seemed well written, with well developed plots. That is certainly the case here, and her descriptions of the landscape of the Cévennes are very evocative. I also enjoyed the odd humorous touch such as the title of Veronica’s book “Gardening without rain” which seemed very apposite as I looked out on the parched grass of Eastern England when this book arrived.

In theory, this should have been a really good book. With the high standard of writing, good descriptions of the landscape, and a well developed plot I was looking forward to reading it. However, like her other books which I have mentioned above, I found the overall effect to be disappointing. Even The Gustav sonata, which I feel was the best of the three, somehow failed to live up to my expectations. In this case, perhaps I have been influenced by the second reading, but I found the plot a little simple. I had guessed what happened by about half way through, and I spent the rest of the book hoping that I was wrong, or that there would be an ‘unexpected development’.

What really stood out, and affected my perception of the book was the sheer number of dysfunctional characters. While I can, and do, feel sorry for many of them, none of them were really likeable or engaging. Of course, they had all been affected by the events of their childhood, but, sadly, all of their relationships have been blighted by this with very destructive consequences. Even Mélodie, the girl who finds Anthony’s body, comes across as rather solipsistic. You need to be worried when even the minor characters are so unlikable!

In a way, all of these characters seemed to be obsessed with some notion of ‘beauty’, and trying to recover that. Anthony wanted to regard his early experiences of his mother as being unspoilt, and was obsessed with beautiful items of furniture. Veronica found it in gardens and her horses, and Kitty thought she had it in her relationship with Veronica. Even Mélodie wanted to go back to her previous life in Paris, complete with violin and ballet lessons.

Another common theme is that of trespass, hence, presumably the apposite title. In this case, not so much trespass on another’s property, but rather one’s personal space. Audrun had been affected by Aramon in the past and continued to be reminded of this by his presence in her childhood home. In turn, he resents Audrun’s small bungalow at the edge of his property. Kitty is angered by Anthony’s visit and the way in which that will impinge upon her relationship with Veronica. Meanwhile all of the locals are resentful of outsiders, and Veronica and Kitty feel like intruders in a foreign land. To be fair, it is not only the foreign investors buying up property who are disliked; even the girl Mélodie was treated with some suspicion. This is a common enough theme closer to home where local residents in popular areas are suspicious of buyers from London looking for second homes.

In summary, this is a well written book with a good plot. Like some of her other books I had high hopes, but was ultimately slightly disappointed. The rather unlovely dysfunctional characters somehow seem to combine in a very destructive way. Although some of their relationships were portrayed well, along with the theme of trespass, I found it difficult to engage with these characters.

Comments by Nicholas Cutler