The Story of Lucy Gault: A Novel

( 9 )

Overview


The stunning new novel from highly acclaimed author William Trevor is a brilliant, subtle, and moving story of love, guilt, and forgiveness. The Gault family leads a life of privilege in early 1920s Ireland, but the threat of violence leads the parents of nine-year-old Lucy to decide to leave for England, her mother's home. Lucy cannot bear the thought of leaving Lahardane, their country house with its beautiful land and nearby beach, and a dog she has befriended. On the day before they are to leave, Lucy runs ...
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Overview


The stunning new novel from highly acclaimed author William Trevor is a brilliant, subtle, and moving story of love, guilt, and forgiveness. The Gault family leads a life of privilege in early 1920s Ireland, but the threat of violence leads the parents of nine-year-old Lucy to decide to leave for England, her mother's home. Lucy cannot bear the thought of leaving Lahardane, their country house with its beautiful land and nearby beach, and a dog she has befriended. On the day before they are to leave, Lucy runs away, hoping to convince her parents to stay. Instead, she sets off a series of tragic misunderstandings that affect all of Lahardane's inhabitants for the rest of their lives.

Shortlisted for the 2002 Booker Prize.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Captain Everard Gault wounded the boy in the right shoulder on the night of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one." So opens Trevor's latest novel, with an act of political violence: the setting is rural Ireland, the Captain's wife is English, and three youths have come, under cover of darkness, to set fire to the family house. The wounding is, as it happens, an accident -- the shot had been intended merely as a warning -- but it quickly becomes clear to the Gaults that they must leave their beloved home. Eight-year-old Lucy, however, has other ideas, and her rebellion has devastating consequences. How should the loyalties to past and future, family and country, be measured? The tragedies that befall the Gaults are difficult to bear, because no one is clearly accountable. As the author delicately probes the nature of personal and political responsibility, the reader squirms with discomfort, longing for a scapegoat and yet aware of the implications of that longing.
Publishers Weekly
Trevor (Death in Summer) is one of the finest prose stylists writing today; his delicately shaded novels and stories often have a Chekhovian sense of loss and longing. This novel, with its elegiac tale of a quiet, sad life lived in the shadow of a wrecked childhood, could well have been penned by the Russian master. Lucy is nine years old when her father, a wealthy Irish army captain married to an Englishwoman, shoots at and wounds one of a trio of locals trying to set his Irish country house, Lahardane, afire in the 1920s. Captain Gault and his wife, Heloise, decide they must leave for England and safety, but Lucy, who has known no other home but Lahardane, flees into the woods on the eve of their departure and cannot be found. Eventually convinced she has drowned at a nearby beach, her parents leave for a life of wandering and grieving exile in Europe, utterly out of touch with their old life. Lucy, however, is discovered, starved but alive, days later by two faithful retainers, who with the aid of a family lawyer keep the house open as Lucy grows into womanhood. The possibility of love enters her life, but her passionate attachment to the remote place repels her potential suitor and she lives on alone. Eventually, after the death of her mother, her father returns to live with her for a while. She even gets to know the wounded youth who once tried to burn down the house, now an elderly man in a mental institution. Lucy ends her days at Lahardane, out of touch with the modern world, but still in thrall to the past. Trevor's deeply poetic sense of the Irish character and countryside, his magical evocation of the passing of time, have never been more eloquent. This is a book to be quietly cherished. (Sept. 30) Forecast: Admirers of the author will need no urging to seek this out, and widespread and positive review attention should help win new ones. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his latest novel, Trevor continues to build upon his reputation as Ireland's answer to Chekhov. He addresses the profoundest of questions-why do we exist?-and supplies a small piece of the answer. Lucy Gault grows up a Protestant in a Catholic part of Ireland in the 1920s. An only child, she enjoys an intimate relationship with her parents and is wedded to her family's lavish country home, the nearby beach and woods, and the house staff. When Lucy's parents decide to flee the persecution of arsonists and move to England, her life takes an unforeseen turn. Tragedy and heartbreak will haunt the Gault family, and their lives do not proceed as expected. As in his earlier works, such as Felicia's Journey and Miss Gomez and the Brethren, Trevor's smooth, spare prose captures the quirky workings of the heart, and compassion for the human condition mitigates the harsh blows that fate often deals his characters. Recommended for all fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/02.]-Diana McRae, Alameda Cty. Lib., San Lorenzo, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Atlantic Monthly
Beautiful and devastating.... Trevor once again captured the terrible beauty of Ireland's fate, and the fate of us all—at the mercy of history, circumstance, and the vicissitudes of time. —Alice McDermott
Kirkus Reviews
A moving tale of history gone wrong and tragedy redeemed, by renowned Irish novelist Trevor (The Hill Bachelors, 2000, etc.). The Gaults have lived in Ireland a long time-since the 16th century, at least, although they didn't develop their estate at Lahardane until the 1700s. But the Irish have long memories, and the fact that the Gaults originally came to the island as adventurers in the service of the British Crown set them apart from the natives well into the 20th century. During the uprisings that raged throughout the countryside in the years immediately following WWI, the Gaults (like most Protestant landlords) found themselves in real peril of their lives. After a group of insurrectionists attempted to set fire to their house one night, Captain and Mrs. Gault decided that enough was enough and made hasty plans to leave Ireland. Their nine-year-old daughter Lucy, however, refused to go, running away the night before they were scheduled to depart. Unfortunately, the Gaults concluded that she was dead rather than missing, and they became all the more determined to put Ireland behind them forever. By the time the girl was discovered alive (by the household staff), Lucy's parents were gone for parts unknown, and all attempts to track them down failed. So Lucy grew up alone at Lahardane, looked after by the kindly caretaker couple and provided for by the family solicitor. During these years, one of the young men who tried to torch the house at Lahardane becomes increasingly guilt-ridden over his actions, eventually deciding that he has to confront the people he attempted to kill. Captain Gault comes home after many years to an Ireland (and a daughter) changed beyond recognition. And acareful, difficult, strange, and beautiful reconciliation is worked out at Lahardane. Trevor's thirthieth-and one of his best. Though faintly mannered and stiff in the telling, it's a beautiful story of history, grief, and forgiveness.
From the Publisher
“Trevor, one of the finest writers in the English-speaking world, can sum up a decade in a sentence…. It seems like minutes until [the novel is] over.” -- The Hamilton Spectator

“Illuminating book from Ireland’s answer to Chekhov.” -- The Edmonton Journal

"[a] gravely beautiful, subtle and haunting Irish novel" -- The Guardian, August 31, 2002

"there will only be a handful of novels worth reading this year...and this book is certainly one" -- Literary Review, September, 2002

"a delicately rendered account of damage, guilt and grief" -- The Sunday Times, August 18, 2002

"simplicity, precision and a rare ability to understand the remarkable in what appears ordinary" -- The Sunday Telegraph, September 1, 2002

"The Story of Lucy Gault persists with the quality which other writers have admired in him for 30 years" -- Prospect, September, 2002

Praise for William Trevor:

“Often spoken of in the same breath as. . .Chekov, Trevor shares [his] subtlety, and, like [him], is able to create distinct and mysterious worlds.” -- National Post

“[Trevor is] the reigning lion of fiction in English.” -- The Globe and Mail

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142003312
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 252,219
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.81 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

William Trevor

William Trevor is the author of twenty-nine books, including Felicia’s Journey, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was made into a motion picture. In 1996 he was the recipient of the Lannan Award for Fiction. In 2001, he won the Irish Times Literature Prize for fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as best books of the year, and his short stories appear regularly in the New Yorker. In 1997, he was named Honorary Commander of the British Empire. He lives in Devon, England.

Biography

"William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence," Brooke Adams once wrote in the New York Times Book Review. Hailed by the New Yorker as "probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language," Trevor has also written over a dozen acclaimed novels as well as several plays. His characters are often people whose desires have been unfulfilled, and who come to rely on various forms of self-deception and fantasy to make their lives bearable.

Trevor was born in 1928 to a middle-class, Protestant family in Ireland. After graduating from Trinity College with a degree in history, he attempted to carve out a career as a sculptor. He moved to England in 1954 and exhibited his sculptures there; he also wrote his first novel, A Standard of Behavior, which was published in 1958 but met with little critical success. His second novel, The Old Boys, won the 1964 Hawthornden Prize for Literature and marked the beginning of a long and prolific career as a novelist, short-story writer and playwright.

Three of Trevor's novels have won the prestigious Whitbread Novel of the Year Award: The Children of Dynmouth, Fools of Fortune and Felicia's Journey. Felicia's Journey, about a pregnant Irish girl who goes to England to find the lover who abandoned her, was adapted for the screen in 1999 by director Atom Egoyan. Trevor, who has described himself as a short-story writer who enjoys writing novels, has also written such celebrated short stories as "Three People," in which a woman who murdered her disabled sister harbors an unspoken longing for the man who provided her with an alibi, and "The Mourning," about a young man who is pressed by political activists into planting a bomb (both from The Hill Bachelors).

Some critics have noted a change in Trevor's work over the years: his early stories tend to contain comic sketches of England, while his later ones describe Ireland with the elegiac tone of an expatriate. Trevor, who now lives in Devon, England, has suggested that he has something of an outsider's view of both countries. "I feel a sense of freshness when I come back [to Ireland]," he said in a 2000 Irish radio interview. "If I lived in, say, Dungarvan or Skibbereen, I think I wouldn't notice things."

As it stands, Trevor is clearly a writer who notices things, just as one of his characters notices "the glen and the woods and the seashore, the flat rocks where the shrimp pools were, the room she woke up in, the chatter of the hens in the yard, the gobbling of the turkeys, her footsteps the first marks on the sand when she walked to Kilauran to school" (The Story of Lucy Gault). Yet as Trevor told an interviewer for The Irish Times, "You mustn't write about what you know. You must use your imagination. Fiction is an act of the imagination." Trevor's fertile imagination captures, as Alice McDermott wrote in The Atlantic, "the terrible beauty of Ireland's fate, and the fate of us all -- at the mercy of history, circumstance, and the vicissitudes of time."

Good To Know

When Trevor was growing up, he wanted to be a clerk in the Bank of Ireland -- following in the footsteps of his father, James William Cox. Cox's career as a bank manager took the family all over Ireland, and Trevor attended over a dozen different schools before entering Trinity College in Dublin.

Trevor married his college sweetheart, Jane Ryan, in 1952. After the birth of their first son, Trevor worked for a time as an advertising copywriter in London. He also sculpted and worked as an art teacher, but gave up his sculpting after it became "too abstract."

In addition to the 1999 film Felicia's Journey, two other movies have been based on Trevor's works: Fools of Fortune (1990), directed by Pat O'Connor, and Attracta (1983), directed by Kieran Hickey. According to Trevor's agent, the plays Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria are also being adapted for the screen.

Trevor is also the author of several plays, most of which are not in print in the U.S. Works include Scenes from an Album, Marriages, and Autumn Sunshine.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Trevor Cox (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      Devon, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 24, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Trinity College, Dublin, 1950

Read an Excerpt

Captain Everard Gault wounded the boy in the right shoulder on the night of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one. Aiming above the trespassers' heads in the darkness, he fired the single shot from an upstairs window and then watched the three figures scuttling off, the wounded one assisted by his companions.

They had come to fire the house, their visit expected because they had been before. On that occasion     they had come later, in the early morning, just after one. The sheepdogs had seen them off, but within a week the dogs lay poisoned in the yard and Captain Gault knew that the intruders would be back. 'We're stretched at the barracks, sir,' Sergeant Talty had said when he came out from Enniseala. 'Oh, stretched shocking, Captain.' Lahardane wasn't the only house under threat; every week somewhere went up, no matter how the constabulary were spread. 'Please God, there'll be an end to it,' Sergeant Talty said, and went away. Martial law prevailed, since the country was in a state of unrest, one that amounted to war. No action was taken about the poisoning of the dogs.

When daylight came on the morning after the shooting, blood could be seen on the sea pebbles of the turn-around in front of the house. Two petrol tins were found behind a tree. The pebbles were raked, a couple of bucketfuls that had been discoloured in the accident taken away.

Captain Gault thought it would be all right then: a lesson had been learnt. He wrote to Father Morrissey in Enniseala, asking him to pass on his sympathy and his regret if the priest happened to hear who it was who'd been wounded. He had not sought to inflict an injury, only to make it known that a watch was being kept. Father Morrissey wrote back. He was always the wild one in that family, he concluded his comments on the event, but there was an awkwardness about his letter, about the choice of phrases and of words, as if he found it difficult to comment on what had occurred, as if he didn't understand that neither death nor injury had been intended. He had passed the message on, he wrote, but no acknowledgement had come back from the family he referred to.

Captain Gault had been wounded himself. For six years, since he had come back an invalid from the trenches, he had carried fragments of shrapnel in his body, and they would always be there now. His injury at that time had brought his military career to an end: he would remain forever a captain, which was intensely a disappointment, since he had always imagined achieving much higher rank. But he was not, in other ways, a disappointed man. There was the great solace of his happy marriage, of the child his wife, Heloise, had borne him, of his house. There was no other place he might more happily have lived than beneath the slated roof of its three grey storeys, the stone softened by the white woodwork of the windows and the delicate fanlight above a white hall door. Flanking it on its right was the wide high archway of a cobbled yard, with cobbled passageways leading to an apple orchard and a garden. One half of the circle on to which the front rooms looked out was the gravel sweep; the other was a raised lawn that was separated from steeply rising woods by a curve of blue hydrangeas. The upstairs rooms at the back had a view of the sea as far as the sea's horizon.

The origins of the Gaults in Ireland had centuries ago misted over. Previously of Norfolk - so it was believed within the family, although without much certainty - they had settled first of all in the far western reaches of County Cork. A soldier of fortune had established their modest dynasty, lying low there for reasons that were not known. Some time in the early eighteenth century the family had moved east, respectable and well-to-do by then, one son or another of each generation continuing the family's army connection. The land at Lahardane was purchased; the building of the house began. The long, straight avenue was made, lines of chestnut trees planted along it on either side, the woodlands of the glen laid out. Later generations planted the orchard, with stock from County Armagh; the garden, kept small, was created bit by bit. In 1769 Lord Townshend, the Lord Lieutenant, stayed at Lahardane; in 1809 Daniel O'Connell did when there wasn't a bedroom unoccupied at the Stuarts' Dromana. History touched the place in that way; but as well-remembered, as often talked about, were births and marriages and deaths, domestic incidents, changes and additions to this room or that, occasions of anger or reconciliation. Suffering a stroke, a Gault in 1847 lay afflicted for three years yet not insensible. There was a disastrous six months of card-playing in 1872 during which field after field was lost to the neighbouring O'Reillys. There was the diphtheria outbreak that spread so rapidly and so tragically in 1901, sparing only the present Everard Gault and his brother in a family of five. Above the writing-desk in the drawing-room there was a portrait of a distant ancestor whose identity had been unknown for as long as anyone of the present could remember: a spare, solemn countenance where it was not whiskered, blue unemphatic eyes. It was the only portrait in the house, although since photography had begun there were albums that included the images of relatives and friends as well as those of the Gaults of Lahardane.

All this - the house and the remnants of the pasture land, the seashore below the pale clay cliffs, the walk along it to the fishing village of Kilauran, the avenue over which the high branches of the chestnut trees now met - was as much part of Everard Gault as the features of his face were, the family traits that quite resembled a few of those in the drawing-room portrait, the smooth dark hair. Tall and straight-backed, a man who hid nothing of himself, slight in his ambitions now, he had long ago accepted that his destiny was to keep in good heart what had been his inheritance, to attract bees to his hives, to root up his failing apple trees and replace them. He swept the chimneys of his house himself, could repoint its mortar and replace its window glass. Creeping about on its roof, he repaired in the lead the small perforations that occurred from time to time, the Seccotine he squeezed into them effective for a while.

In many of these tasks he was assisted by Henry, a slow-moving, heavily made man who rarely, in daytime, removed the hat from his head. Years ago Henry had married into the gate-lodge, of which he and Bridget were now the sole occupants, since no children had been born to them and Bridget's parents were no longer alive. Her father, with two men under him, had looked after the horses and seen to all that Henry on his own now saw to in the yard and the fields. Her mother had worked in the house, her grandmother before that. Bridget was as thickset as her husband, with strong wide shoulders and a capable manner: the kitchen was wholly in her charge. The bedroom maid, Kitty Teresa, assisted Heloise Gault in what had once been the duties of several indoor servants; old Hannah walked over from Kilauran once a week to wash the clothes and sheets and tablecloths, and to scrub the tiles of the hall and the stone floors at the back. The style of the past was no longer possible at Lahardane. The long avenue passed through the land that had become the O'Reillys' at the card table, when the Gaults of that time had been left with pasture enough only to support a modest herd of Friesians.

Three days after the shooting in the night Heloise Gault read the letter that had come from Father Morrissey, then turned it over and read it again. She was a slender, slightly built woman in her late thirties, her long fair hair arranged in a style that complemented her features, imbuing a demure beauty with a hint of severity that was constantly contradicted by her smile. But her smile had not been much in evidence since the night she had been woken by a shot.

Even though in the ordinary run of things she was not pusillanimous, Heloise Gault felt frightened. She, too, came of an army family and had taken it in her stride when, a few years before her marriage, she was left almost alone in the world on the death of her mother, who had been widowed during the war with the Boers. Courage came naturally to her in times of upheaval or grief, but was not as generously there as she imagined it would be when she reflected upon the attempt to burn down the house she and her child and her maid had been asleep in. There'd been, as well, the poisoning of the dogs and the unanswered message to the young man's family, the blood on the pebbles. 'I'm frightened, Everard,' she confessed at last, no longer keeping her feelings private.

They knew each other well, the Captain and his wife. They had in common a certain way of life, an order of priorities and concerns. Their shared experience of death when they were young had drawn them close and in their marriage had made precious for them the sense of family that the birth of a child allowed. Heloise had once assumed that other children would be born to her, and still had not abandoned hope that one more at least might be. But in the meanwhile she was so convincingly persuaded by her husband that the lack of a son to inherit Lahardane was not a failure on her part that she experienced - and more and more as her only child grew up - gratitude for the solitary birth and for a trinity sustained by affection.

'It's not like you to be frightened, Heloise.'

'All this has happened because I'm here. Because I am an English wife at Lahardane.'

She it was, Heloise insisted, who drew attention to the house, but her husband doubted it. He reminded her that what had been attempted at Lahardane was part of a pattern that was repeated all over Ireland. The nature of the house, the possession of land even though it had dwindled, the family's army connection, would have been enough to bring that trouble in the night. And he had to admit that the urge to cause destruction, whatever its origin, could not be assumed to have been stifled by the stand he'd taken. For some time afterwards Everard Gault slept in the afternoon and watched by night; and although no one disturbed his vigil, this concern with protection, and his wife's apprehension, created in the household further depths of disquiet, a nerviness that affected everyone, including in the end the household's child.

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First Chapter

Captain Everard Gault wounded the boy in the right shoulder on the night of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one. Aiming above the trespassers' heads in the darkness, he fired the single shot from an upstairs window and then watched the three figures scuttling off, the wounded one assisted by his companions.

They had come to fire the house, their visit expected because they had been before. On that occasion they had come later, in the early morning, just after one. The sheepdogs had seen them off, but within a week the dogs lay poisoned in the yard and Captain Gault knew that the intruders would be back. 'We're stretched at the barracks, sir,' Sergeant Talty had said when he came out from Enniseala. 'Oh, stretched shocking, Captain.' Lahardane wasn't the only house under threat; every week somewhere went up, no matter how the constabulary were spread. 'Please God, there'll be an end to it,' Sergeant Talty said, and went away. Martial law prevailed, since the country was in a state of unrest, one that amounted to war. No action was taken about the poisoning of the dogs.

When daylight came on the morning after the shooting, blood could be seen on the sea pebbles of the turn-around in front of the house. Two petrol tins were found behind a tree. The pebbles were raked, a couple of bucketfuls that had been discoloured in the accident taken away.

Captain Gault thought it would be all right then: a lesson had been learnt. He wrote to Father Morrissey in Enniseala, asking him to pass on his sympathy and his regret if the priest happened to hear who it was who'd been wounded. He had not sought to inflict an injury, only to make it known that a watch was being kept. FatherMorrissey wrote back. He was always the wild one in that family, he concluded his comments on the event, but there was an awkwardness about his letter, about the choice of phrases and of words, as if he found it difficult to comment on what had occurred, as if he didn't understand that neither death nor injury had been intended. He had passed the message on, he wrote, but no acknowledgement had come back from the family he referred to.

Captain Gault had been wounded himself. For six years, since he had come back an invalid from the trenches, he had carried fragments of shrapnel in his body, and they would always be there now. His injury at that time had brought his military career to an end: he would remain forever a captain, which was intensely a disappointment, since he had always imagined achieving much higher rank. But he was not, in other ways, a disappointed man. There was the great solace of his happy marriage, of the child his wife, Heloise, had borne him, of his house. There was no other place he might more happily have lived than beneath the slated roof of its three grey storeys, the stone softened by the white woodwork of the windows and the delicate fanlight above a white hall door. Flanking it on its right was the wide high archway of a cobbled yard, with cobbled passageways leading to an apple orchard and a garden. One half of the circle on to which the front rooms looked out was the gravel sweep; the other was a raised lawn that was separated from steeply rising woods by a curve of blue hydrangeas. The upstairs rooms at the back had a view of the sea as far as the sea's horizon.

The origins of the Gaults in Ireland had centuries ago misted over. Previously of Norfolk - so it was believed within the family, although without much certainty - they had settled first of all in the far western reaches of County Cork. A soldier of fortune had established their modest dynasty, lying low there for reasons that were not known. Some time in the early eighteenth century the family had moved east, respectable and well-to-do by then, one son or another of each generation continuing the family's army connection. The land at Lahardane was purchased; the building of the house began. The long, straight avenue was made, lines of chestnut trees planted along it on either side, the woodlands of the glen laid out. Later generations planted the orchard, with stock from County Armagh; the garden, kept small, was created bit by bit. In 1769 Lord Townshend, the Lord Lieutenant, stayed at Lahardane; in 1809 Daniel O'Connell did when there wasn't a bedroom unoccupied at the Stuarts' Dromana. History touched the place in that way; but as well-remembered, as often talked about, were births and marriages and deaths, domestic incidents, changes and additions to this room or that, occasions of anger or reconciliation. Suffering a stroke, a Gault in 1847 lay afflicted for three years yet not insensible. There was a disastrous six months of card-playing in 1872 during which field after field was lost to the neighbouring O'Reillys. There was the diphtheria outbreak that spread so rapidly and so tragically in 1901, sparing only the present Everard Gault and his brother in a family of five. Above the writing-desk in the drawing-room there was a portrait of a distant ancestor whose identity had been unknown for as long as anyone of the present could remember: a spare, solemn countenance where it was not whiskered, blue unemphatic eyes. It was the only portrait in the house, although since photography had begun there were albums that included the images of relatives and friends as well as those of the Gaults of Lahardane.

All this - the house and the remnants of the pasture land, the seashore below the pale clay cliffs, the walk along it to the fishing village of Kilauran, the avenue over which the high branches of the chestnut trees now met - was as much part of Everard Gault as the features of his face were, the family traits that quite resembled a few of those in the drawing-room portrait, the smooth dark hair. Tall and straight-backed, a man who hid nothing of himself, slight in his ambitions now, he had long ago accepted that his destiny was to keep in good heart what had been his inheritance, to attract bees to his hives, to root up his failing apple trees and replace them. He swept the chimneys of his house himself, could repoint its mortar and replace its window glass. Creeping about on its roof, he repaired in the lead the small perforations that occurred from time to time, the Seccotine he squeezed into them effective for a while.

In many of these tasks he was assisted by Henry, a slow-moving, heavily made man who rarely, in daytime, removed the hat from his head. Years ago Henry had married into the gate-lodge, of which he and Bridget were now the sole occupants, since no children had been born to them and Bridget's parents were no longer alive. Her father, with two men under him, had looked after the horses and seen to all that Henry on his own now saw to in the yard and the fields. Her mother had worked in the house, her grandmother before that. Bridget was as thickset as her husband, with strong wide shoulders and a capable manner: the kitchen was wholly in her charge. The bedroom maid, Kitty Teresa, assisted Heloise Gault in what had once been the duties of several indoor servants; old Hannah walked over from Kilauran once a week to wash the clothes and sheets and tablecloths, and to scrub the tiles of the hall and the stone floors at the back. The style of the past was no longer possible at Lahardane. The long avenue passed through the land that had become the O'Reillys' at the card table, when the Gaults of that time had been left with pasture enough only to support a modest herd of Friesians.

Three days after the shooting in the night Heloise Gault read the letter that had come from Father Morrissey, then turned it over and read it again. She was a slender, slightly built woman in her late thirties, her long fair hair arranged in a style that complemented her features, imbuing a demure beauty with a hint of severity that was constantly contradicted by her smile. But her smile had not been much in evidence since the night she had been woken by a shot.

Even though in the ordinary run of things she was not pusillanimous, Heloise Gault felt frightened. She, too, came of an army family and had taken it in her stride when, a few years before her marriage, she was left almost alone in the world on the death of her mother, who had been widowed during the war with the Boers. Courage came naturally to her in times of upheaval or grief, but was not as generously there as she imagined it would be when she reflected upon the attempt to burn down the house she and her child and her maid had been asleep in. There'd been, as well, the poisoning of the dogs and the unanswered message to the young man's family, the blood on the pebbles. 'I'm frightened, Everard,' she confessed at last, no longer keeping her feelings private.

They knew each other well, the Captain and his wife. They had in common a certain way of life, an order of priorities and concerns. Their shared experience of death when they were young had drawn them close and in their marriage had made precious for them the sense of family that the birth of a child allowed. Heloise had once assumed that other children would be born to her, and still had not abandoned hope that one more at least might be. But in the meanwhile she was so convincingly persuaded by her husband that the lack of a son to inherit Lahardane was not a failure on her part that she experienced - and more and more as her only child grew up - gratitude for the solitary birth and for a trinity sustained by affection.

'It's not like you to be frightened, Heloise.'

'All this has happened because I'm here. Because I am an English wife at Lahardane.'

She it was, Heloise insisted, who drew attention to the house, but her husband doubted it. He reminded her that what had been attempted at Lahardane was part of a pattern that was repeated all over Ireland. The nature of the house, the possession of land even though it had dwindled, the family's army connection, would have been enough to bring that trouble in the night. And he had to admit that the urge to cause destruction, whatever its origin, could not be assumed to have been stifled by the stand he'd taken. For some time afterwards Everard Gault slept in the afternoon and watched by night; and although no one disturbed his vigil, this concern with protection, and his wife's apprehension, created in the household further depths of disquiet, a nerviness that affected everyone, including in the end the household's child.

From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright© 2002 by William Trevor
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Foreword

1. “Why must we go?” Lucy asks her father [p.22]. “Because they don’t want us here,” he answers. Do the plans that Everard and Heloise make to leave Lahardane for the security of England seem at all hasty? Do those plans seem especially rash after Lucy’s disappearance?

2. “I belong nowhere else,” says Everard of the land that has been Gault property since the eighteenth century. Is it cowardice or courage, then, that propels Everard to sacrifice the heritage of Lahardane for the safety of his family? Has Everard, as Trevor writes [p.27], “too carelessly betrayed the past and then betrayed, with easy comforting, a daughter and a wife”?

3. As Lucy chose to run away so too have her parents. Have they run away for very different reasons? Are Everard and Heloise relieved, in a way, of the suffering and regret they have by “playing at being dead”? Have they found a certain freedom at the tragic cost of losing their daughter? At what point does Lucy lose hope for the return or resurfacing of her parents? And why do they flee their home before understanding the true fate of their only child?

4. “It’s no good loving one another…. I’m not someone to love,” Lucy humbly says to Ralph [p.111]. What are Lucy’s reasons for feeling this way? Why does she reject Ralph’s affection and proposal of marriage?

5. “Memories can be everything if we choose to make them so,” writes Trevor [p.119]. Have the Gaults indeed made too much of their memories?

6. On a lonely Italian piazza Everard listens to the earnest plea of his wife: “Pleasedon’t make me go back,” she says [p.107]. Meanwhile, in the melancholy surroundings of Lahardane Lucy asks, “Why do they not come back?” What is the nature of tragic loss and how do we deal with it? What sense is there in Everard and Heloise forsaking all communications with friends and relatives for nearly three decades, in turning their back on Ireland and all it has represented to them? How realistic or metaphorical might be Trevor’s intentions here?

7. Trevor writes, “Novels were a reflection of reality, of all the world’s desperation and of its happiness, as much of one as of the other. Why should mistakes and foolishness — in reality too — not be put right while still they might be?” So when he’s given an unexpected chance at atonement by discovering his daughter alive upon his return to Lahardane, is Everard successful in repairing the relationship he razed with Lucy? Does Lucy forgive her father? Does she forgive herself? More importantly, why is forgiveness from her father so precious when it was he and Heloise who deserted Lucy? How does the history of the place play itself out in similar ways?

8. The appearance of Horahan at Lahardane seems honest and innocuous but also suspiciously malevolent. Is his motive for stopping in on the Gaults true? Is he struggling to achieve some peace of mind by assuring himself that Lucy is alive and not the victim of the blaze that in his nightmares he successfully sets? Is it impossible to believe that maybe he had returned to fulfill the task the Captain’s rifle-shot interrupted? So why does Lucy ultimately forgive Horahan? Does forgiveness from Lucy come easier to Horahan than it does to Everard, and why might that be?

9. Even if she hadn’t been separated from her parents at such a tender age would Lucy’s life have unfolded much differently?

10. To Sister Antony and Mary Bartholomew “[Lucy’s] tranquility is their astonishment…. They did not witness for themselves, but others did, the journey made to bring redemption; they only wonder why it was made, so faithfully and for so long.” Do these nuns that regularly visit Lucy in her old age detect a significant parallel between her and St. Lucia of Syracuse, who in the strength of God stood immovable after condemnation against Roman guards ordered to drag her away?

11. Is it William Trevor’s intent to have the Gault name analogize the word guilt?

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Reading Group Guide

Our Book Club Recommendation
The Story of Lucy Gault is a haunting tale, perhaps because -- without being in any way supernatural -- it is about what happens when someone returns from the dead. William Trevor's brief, moving novel of grief that divides a family resonates with the questions that are raised when we confront our darkest fears. And yet reading groups will find The Story of Lucy Gault to be in the end concerned with endurance and forgiveness, rather than despair.

Trevor traces the unlikely yet completely plausible fate of the Gault family with great care. It begins with a horrible accident in rural Ireland. Captain Everard Gault is planning to take his wife and daughter, Lucy, away from Ireland, perhaps for good. Hoping to shock her parents into staying in the place she loves, Lucy runs away into the countryside, but breaks a leg and is trapped. When she doesn't return, it is assumed she has drowned in the ocean. Grief-stricken, her parents leave their home for Europe in haste. Lucy is found, injured but alive, days later -- but by then, her parents have vanished somewhere in Europe, cutting off all contact with former friends, in a self-imposed exile. Lucy grows up believing that they must know she is alive, and that they have disowned her for her rebellious act.

The novel follows Lucy's parents, as they wander Europe in search of a haven and forgetfulness, and Lucy herself, as she grows up with the strange legacy of this traumatic event. As the story unfolds, Trevor explores the lasting nature of psychic wounds, as well as the power we have to heal. Lucy's upbringing is taken over by her parents' former servants, and readers are given opportunities to think about how the ties of affection and friendship can be stronger than they appear on the surface. When Lucy rejects a man she loves because she believes "I'm not someone to love," we see how deep the influence of tragedy can run.

Although The Story of Lucy Gault resonates with serious themes, reading groups will find that through the sadness of the story, the author's great love for the beauty of Ireland shines through. The world of Lahardane and the surrounding countryside is rendered with crystalline clarity; so, too, is the Italy to which the elder Gaults flee. Throughout, Trevor offers a vision of the redemptive beauty of daily life: Lucy takes joy in the fact that "instead of nothing there is what there is." Book clubs will savor this slender tale, both for the deep feelings evoked by its characters, and by the vision it offers of a life precious in every moment. Bill Tipper

Introduction and Discussion Questions from the Publisher
William Trevor has long been regarded as one of Ireland's most evocative writers, a prose stylist of the highest order with a Chekhovian awareness of the emotional undercurrents of his characters' lives. And in The Story of Lucy Gault , Trevor lives up to, perhaps even surpasses, that reputation in a novel that explores the tragic consequences for one family of Ireland's deep-seated political strife.

The Story of Lucy Gault is set in provincial Ireland in the early 1920s at the height of civil turmoil and anti-English violence. Everard Gault, a retired Anglo-Irish army captain married to an Englishwoman, shoots and wounds one of the boys who has come in the night to set their house afire. This act sets in motion a chain of events that are to have grievous effects on the Gault family. Convinced their attackers will return, Everard and Heloise decide they must leave Ireland. But their daughter Lucy, heartbroken at such a prospect, runs away. When some of her clothes are found by the ocean shore, her parents assume she has committed suicide. In their grief they decide to travel, aimlessly at first, before settling in Italy and then Switzerland, losing touch entirely with Ireland. They remain unaware that Lucy did not die but has lived out the years waiting for their return, unable to forgive herself for her youthful recklessness. And, indeed, the problem of forgiveness lies at the heart of The Story of Lucy Gault -forgiveness for the act of terror that drove the family away, for Everard and Heloise's mistaken conclusion that their daughter had drowned, and for all the words left unspoken that might have changed their fates.

With a subtlety and emotional insight rarely matched in contemporary fiction, The Story of Lucy Gault follows the inexorable unfolding of a few chance events that alter the lives of a family and unforgettably illuminate the contours of the human condition.

ABOUT WILLIAM TREVOR
William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in 1928, and spent his childhood in provincial Ireland. Among his books are Two Lives, My House in Umbria, The Collected Stories, Felicia's Journey, After Rain, Death in Summer, and The Hill Bachelors. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and lives in Devon, England.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. The Story of Lucy Gault is as much about what doesn't happen, or what almost happens, as what does. Lahardane is almost set afire, Lucy comes close to marrying Ralph, Everard writes letters to Ireland but does not send them. What other instances reveal the significance of things not happening? Is the novel saying that what we do not do shapes our lives as much as what we do do?

2. What role does chance play in the novel? What crucial turning points are brought about by chance occurrences? Does this preponderance of chance events suggest the hand of fate directing the characters' lives, or rather a meaningless randomness, the absence of fate?

3. Lucy blames herself, her rash decision to run away, for her parents' leaving; her parents blame themselves for not being more sensitive and honest with their daughter. "We told her lies," Everard says (p. 31). How should the blame be apportioned between Lucy and her parents? To what extent are larger historical and political forces to blame for what happens to the Gault family?

4. Lucy's mother and father conclude that Lucy is dead when they find some of her clothes along the ocean's shore. What are the tragic consequences of this misreading? Why aren't they able to search the woods, to think of other possibilities? What is the novel saying about the role of misinterpretation in our lives?

5. Why does Lucy reject Ralph's impassioned marriage proposals? What are the consequences of this rejection, for her and for Ralph? Was she mistaken to turn Ralph down, or was her rejection her only real option, given her peculiar history, her character, and the circumstances of her life?

6. Heloise Gault imagines uncovering her feelings to her husband: "She heard her voice apologizing, and talking then of all she didn't want to talk about; before she closed her eyes she found the sentences came quite easily. But when she slept, and woke after a few minutes, she heard herself saying she couldn't have that conversation and knew that she was right" (p. 84). Why can't she have that conversation? How might it have helped her? Where else in the novel does the inability to communicate openly and directly have disastrous consequences?

7. Why does Lucy visit Horahan, the man who as a boy helped set in motion the events that caused so much pain, after he's gone insane and been confined to the asylum? Are her visits an act of forgiveness? What effect do these visits have on Horahan? On Lucy herself?

8. In retelling the story of the Gault family, travelers and people in the surrounding towns embellish the narrative. "In talk inspired by what was told, the subtleties that clogged the narrative were smudged away. The spare reality of what had happened was coloured and enriched, and altogether made better. The journey the stricken parents had set out upon became a pilgrimage, absolution sought for sins that varied in the telling" (p. 70). What are the subtleties that clog the narrative? Is the parents' journey a kind of pilgrimage? Have they sinned? Why are subtleties so important in truly understanding a story?

9. Compared to much contemporary fiction, The Story of Lucy Gault is an uneventful, quiet book. How does it achieve such power in the absence of dramatic action? How does Trevor draw out the spiritual implications of his story? What are those implications?

10. At the end of the novel, the nuns visit Lucy, drawn by her extraordinary peacefulness. "Her tranquility is their astonishment... Calamity shaped a life when, long ago, chance was so cruel. Calamity shapes the story that is told, and is the reason for its being: is what they know, besides, the gentle fruit of such misfortunes' harvest? They like to think so...." (p. 224). Are the nuns right in sensing a transcendent calm in Lucy? If so, how has she achieved this peace? Can her life be said to have been, on balance, a good life?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 8, 2013

    easy read/family disintegration

    The story revolves around a young Lucy Galt who spends much of her life in isolation and feeling guilty about how she hurt her parents. The tale takes place during the Irish Revolution and the events and travails experienced by the locals during this period of time.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Too sad for a rainy day

    Though the book makes you think for a long time after you read it, it is not something to read on a gloomy day. There is much problematic about it because of its slow style, depressing theme, and questionable plot. Though some who have read it describe it as almost elegiac, others can find it absolutely maddening. Don't try it unless you like slow.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    So far the best from him

    I have to date read four novels by Trevor, and this was the best one yet.

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  • Posted April 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Sad but Good

    I enjoyed this book. Quick read but lingers long in the mind and heart.

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  • Posted March 30, 2009

    Review of Story of Lucy Gault

    Never miss Trevor's work in the New Yorker. This is a wonderful story, one of the finest I've ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2002

    A MASTER OF HIS CRAFT AT THE PEAK OF HIS POWERS

    A master of his craft at the peak of his powers, William Trevor continues to pen stories that captivate. His spare prose sparkles, and his limning of the human heart inevitably brings a rush of recognition. Such is surely the case with his latest work, The Story of Lucy Gault. We first meet Lucy when she is nine-years-old, and living a privileged life in 1920s Ireland. Her father's family home is Lahardane, a spacious estate with orchards, woods to explore, and a beach that she especially loves. Captain Gault, her father, is justifiably proud of his family's domain, but feels forced to leave when there is an arson attempt. They will go to England, he decides, to Lucy's mother's home. As distressed as he is at the thought of leaving, the Captain tries to convince himself that all will eventually be well, "`Oh, all this will fall into place,' he murmured more than once, confident in his reassurance to himself. Leaving, arriving, the furniture one day settled around them again: time and circumstance would arrange their lives, as in exile so many other lives had been arranged." If Captain Gault and his wife, Heloise, could come to terms with the family's upheaval, Lucy could not. So desperate was she to keep her family at Lahardane that the day before their planned departure she ran away, hoping this will convince her parents to stay. Her father remembers the flawed reassurances they had offered Lucy, the promises to return that might not be kept. "Disobedience had been a child's defiance," he mused, "deception the coinage they had offered her themselves." But rather than forcing her parents to remain, Lucy has unintentionally initiated a dreadful series of events, years of loss and recrimination. Upon finding the girl's summer vest snagged on a rock by the shore it is believed that Lucy has drowned herself rather than leave her beloved Lahardane. Grieved and bereft her parents move on to travel from place to place throughout the world, always seeking the solace of a new beginning, forgetfulness in an unfamiliar place. Unbeknownst to them Lucy has survived and is taken in by trusted servants, Henry and Bridget, who have no idea how to contact the Gaults. Lucy grows to young womanhood, very much alone until she meets Ralph and falls in love. It is a love that will never be, as Lucy has consigned herself to a life of waiting for her parents' return so that she might be reunited with them and ask their forgiveness. As young womanhood gives way to middle age Lucy comes into contact with a mentally incompetent man, the same man who had tried to burn her family home so many years ago. In scenes rich with forgiveness she visits him in the home to which he has been assigned. William Trevor has been called "the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language." Words of praise pale beside his wonderfully lyric prose, as he reveals longings shared by all of us and paints luminous word pictures of Ireland. Read "The Story of Lucy Gault" for pure pleasure; keep it as a treasure of English literature.

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    Posted November 27, 2010

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    Posted April 11, 2011

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    Posted September 24, 2009

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