If I hadn’t been given „The Road Home“ as a Christmas present by an English friend, I wonder when I would have discovered Rose Tremain as the highly gifted writer that she is.
Meanwhile, I have read „Sacred Country“, „Music and Silence“, „The Colour“, and her latest novel „Trespass“. It is amazing how she is
able to evoke the spirit of times and ages in creating her complex works. Her characters are endowed with convincing lives and thoughts. It seems to be no problem to her to write from any point of view imaginable, no matter what age, gender, or nationality. She shows deep insight into people’s motives for their decisions and deeds. In their pursuit of happiness her characters often leave their home countries, families, and friends – sometimes for good – and involuntarily become outsiders in their new surroundings though trying hard to accommodate themselves. Since human nature is corrupt, a lot of violation takes place in the long history of countries and families. Lands, homes, bodies, minds, relationships are treated with disrespect and made to suffer or decline into chaos. For all these ‚trespasses‘ there is hardly ever any true redemption.
„Trespass“ is set in the unforgiving dramatic landscape of the Cévennes in southern France, which the author herself is quite familiar with.
At the beginning of the story, ten-year-old Mélodie wanders away from her school party having a picnic during a school outing. She is new in her class and bullied by her classmates for her different accent and behaviour. Because of her father’s career the family has just moved from Paris to this wild region of the country, which Mélodie cannot cope with at all. Strolling through a wood she discovers something and starts screaming. However, not until the end of the novel does the reader get to know what has happened.
The once-renowned London antique dealer Anthony Verey, a snobbish man of sixty something, is failing to make money in his forbiddingly elegant shop in Chelsea. He decides to escape to his sister Veronica, a garden designer, who lives in southern France with her lover Kitty, an amateur watercolourist, whom Anthony despises. Anthony’s arrival brings disruption to the lovers‘ idyll. To Veronica, who has always taken care of her younger brother because their pleasure-seeking mother never had any time for her children, this is no problem. She loves her brother and wants to help him find a house in the area, whereas Kitty’s jealousy and hatred of Anthony become insurmountable. She leaves shortly after Anthony is missed and keeps missing.
At the heart of the story, however, are a French brother and half-sister, Aramon and Audrun Lunel, both born after the Second World War and now in their late middle age. Aramon, a decrepit alcoholic, hopes to sell the majestic but subsiding old family stone house, the Mas Lunel, to wealthy foreigners. Anthony Verey, the first of the potential buyers, feels deterred by the fact that Audrun’s squalid modern bungalow has been built on the borderline that separates her territory from her brother’s. This private dispute between brother and sister has to be settled first before the local agents are able to sell the house. Worldwide the recession deepens, and the local mayor declares that „displacement of local people by foreigners must end“ in the newspaper.
Audrun tries to prevent her brother from selling the house that she feels she has a right to. After their adored mother had died, Aramon was encouraged by his own father to join him in abusing Audrun, who is not his own daughter. ‚Trespass‘ – in the sense of wrong-doing – has poisoned the atmosphere between brother and sister and in Mas Lunel ever since. Aramon himself cannot come to terms with what he has done to Audrun. He neglects the stately house and the hunting dogs and often has to bid his sister to help him find or remember things. Though she takes care of him, she thinks about ways of getting rid of him so that he will not be able to sell the house and the land. Of all the novel’s characters she is the one with the most respect for her environment.
Mélodie’s piercing scream , which has been echoing through the novel, is explained when finally Anthony’s body is found in a river behind Mas Lunel. His car is found hidden in a shed, and Aramon is accused of murder. Although he cannot remember anything and thinks his mind keeps deteriorating, he admits everything and is sent to prison, where after a very long time Ausdrun visits him. He tells her he feels sorry for what had happened in the past. Not long after he had left Mas Lunel, it was destroyed by a fire that almost killed Audrun. It could be rebuilt with the insurance money, however, Audrun decides to have it demolished altogether so that, in the end, nothing is left of it.
Being on her own now, Veronica decides to return to England. ‚… Because if you left your own country, if you left it late, and made your home in someone else’s country, there was always a feeling that you were breaking an invisible law, always the irrational fear that, one day, some ‚rightful owner‘ would arrive to take it all away, and you would be driven out – back to London or Hampshire or Norfolk, to whatever place you could legitimately lay claim.‘