The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor
9/10, a beautifully told story of a girl’s life in Ireland
I was introduced to William Trevor in my first fiction workshop, with a short story “Death in Jerusalem,” about an Irish priest who travels to the Holy Land with his brother. In that story, the brother is reluctant to leave his ailing mother, as he’s her only companion; the priest is more carefree and pushes him to come along.
“The Story of Lucy Gault” has the same rich sense of character and place, set in a small village in the hills of Ireland where the Gaults have lived for years. Their time has been peaceful, if not prosperous; Trevor recounts a stretch over which a good portion of their fields were lost to neighbors in “a series of disastrous card games.” This sounds like an amusing throwaway detail, but it is more than that. The history of the Gaults, and of Lucy, is shaped by tragicomic events like this one, and Trevor has a magnificent, gentle touch in his rendering of the characters who grow from that history.
The events of the book are set in motion when the Gaults’ home is attacked by local youths, because the captain served in the British army and took a British wife. This was just before the Irish Civil war, when tensions were high. A number of other families have already left Ireland, but the Gaults stubbornly remain–until their daughter, Lucy, wanders into the surf and is drowned. Grief-stricken, they leave for England but decide to wander Europe, leaving no forwarding address.
Lucy, however, did not wander into the ocean but the woods, where she broke her ankle and nearly starved to death before being found, a day after her parents left. The two servants left behind to tend the estate bring her back and raise her in her family home, while various parties attempt in vain to contact her parents. Lucy grows up with a sense of guilt at the pain she’s caused them with her foolishness, in desperate need of forgiveness. How she attains it, and what she does with it, are at the core of this lovely, sad book.
Trevor’s writing is beautiful and gentle, evocative of the beauty and poverty of Ireland and the people who inhabit it. His vivid descriptions and just slightly larger than life events and personalities make the book a pleasure to read; while you ache for Lucy, you can’t help but envy her life, as she makes the best of her predicament. Subtly, Trevor takes us through the ages and the changes in Ireland, which have little effect on Lucy herself, but serve as backdrop to the constant life she crafts for herself.