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"Trespass" by Rose Tremain

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Sometimes when watching a TV ad for a fragrance or a soft drink or almost anything, my wife or I will jokingly say, “Go ahead. Find the unattractive person in that ad.” We say it because it’s impossible to do. While reading Rose Tremain’s weighty “Trespass,” one could say the converse: “Okay, find the attractive or sympathetic person.” Because you pretty much can’t. “Trespass” portrays the lives a small number of people in late middle age as they progress into dotage. It also contains a hard-won balance, a magisterial justice, along with its brilliant depictions of Cevenol France. Along the way we witness true, anguished, human motivation, and at the end of the day, we have the unmistakably brilliant Rose Tremain behind it all.

Our intrepid author introduces us first to Anthony Verey, a once-almost-wealthy antiques dealer with a shop in a posh section of London. He realizes during a dinner with rich friends that his chance at real wealth has passed him by somehow, and that his celebrity isn’t what it once was. He realizes with excruciating pain that he is no longer spoken of in hushed terms at art openings, he no longer was "the" Anthony Verey. This timid, jealous, inadequate, precious mama’s boy must find a way out of his over-the-hill predicament. He settles of course for moving to the south of France, to the Cevennes Mountains, to be with his beloved sister so they can sort it all out. What gets sorted out, however ghastly it is, actually serves Verey rather well. Ms. Tremain presents grand timeless issues, like gentrification of old land holdings, jealousy, betrayal, greed, and the cruel horrors perpetrated within families. She sets these forces forward in an inexorable march of tragedy and retribution. It has a cinematic feel to it, one in which the audience may cheer for the wronged to come out on top, no matter the means. Our author even puts this Hollywood image into the head of one of her protagonists, as events unfold, and police inspectors ask their inevitable questions.

As always, Rose Tremain presents vivid pictures, both of outward nature, and of inward nature. The desperate ambition, the envy, the smugness of the socially superior, the grasping of the commercially opportune – our author lays these all out for our inspection, and in doing so, holds our modern adoration for money up in a mirror for us. She also reminds us that each society has its victims, and some of these victims so utterly lack for any protection or redress, that only tragedy can follow.

Ms. Tremain also invites us to decide which transgression lends its name to the novel. The British antiques dealer mulls over whether to purchase the French farmhouse, and the locals consider this a form of trespassing. Audrun, the current owner’s sister, unwell, ashamed, suffers the further indignity of being accused of trespassing because of her bungalow’s location. Anthony trespasses on his sister, and her happiness, and we also see how the locals trespass on the living forest that blankets the hills.

Once again, Orange Prize-winning Rose Tremain reinforces her powerful reputation. She has turned out a deep and serious piece of fiction, without perhaps the soaring, dreamlike escape of “The Colour” or the comic touches of “The Road Home.” This is a more contemplative work, filled with cautionary examples of greed and injustice, but also containing a grandeur, a momentous justice, wrought by the book's character seemingly least capable ot it. Recommended very highly.
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