When I told Cathy of 746 Books that I couldn’t cope with Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and asked her to recommend an easier book since I was determined to participate in Reading Ireland Month, she offered quite a few options. I chose William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault. (Thank you, Cathy!) 🙂
William Trevor set the tone from the very beginning; I knew that nothing would go right for Lucy Gault. Her story was melancholic, but it didn’t make me sob. I felt a distant pain, and it lingered for a while, as though my mind played a sad song over and over again even after the music player was switched off. I didn’t pity her, for she didn’t demand sympathy. But there was a dull ache. A longing for things that could have been.
Its subtlety made the novel memorable for me. All the characters buried their thoughts. And, yet Trevor wrote about them in a poetic fashion. From Lucy Gault’s helpers, to the nuns, who tried alleviating her solitude, none of them seemed redundant; every one of them was unforgettable.
It was 1921. The political climate in Ireland was unsettling. Captain Gault, and his wife, decided to leave Ireland, after he shot an arsonist, who tried setting fire to their house. Although Captain sought forgiveness, they were not sure if their lives were safe anymore. As they packed to relocate to England, their daughter Lucy went missing. The little child, who was incurably in love with the sea, the fishermen, a stray dog, nature in general, couldn’t imagine leaving her home, and it was her parents’s fault for not letting her know the significance of relocation. Owing to accidents that ensued, the Gaults deduced that their daughter was no more, and kept travelling across Europe, grieving for their child, only for the Captain to return several years later.
Meanwhile, in Ireland, Lucy was found alive, a few days after their parents’s departure. She was mad at herself for destroying their parents’s peace, and immersed herself in solitude. She had a lover, but she didn’t allow herself to be loved, because she couldn’t forgive herself. And, she hoped that her parents, who couldn’t be reached for years, would return one day, and offer her absolution. Her indomitable faith about her parents’s return from their exile, and her inability to release herself from the painful clutches of guilt kept her going.
You made up heaven for yourself, her mama said, you made up what you wanted it to be.
‘Love is greedy when it is starved,’ Heloise reminded him when they walked across the difficult paving. ‘Don’t you remember, Everard? Love is beyond all reason when it is starved.’
And novels were a reflection of reality, of all the world’s desperation and of its happiness, as much as one as of the other. Why should mistakes and foolishness — in reality too — not be put right while still they might me?
Calamity shaped a life when, long ago, chance was so cruel.
All gone, it feels like, and yet not gone at all.
Lucy filled her days with books. I smiled when she told her lover that there were more than 5,000 books in her house, and that she had read more than 500. She wondered if he thought she was crazy to count it. I nodded, and murmured. “Of course not, Lucy. Of course not! We all do.” I loved her more when she told him that he could leave her house only if he finished reading Vanity Fair, and discussed its merits. What a thoughtful way to make a lover stay longer! He had to read more than 600 pages, and how daunting it would have been for a non-reader.
One thing, just one thing went wrong in Lucy’s life, and it fell over like a row of dominoes. She lost her childhood, she had to live like a fugitive in her own house, she deprived herself of ordinary pleasures, and above all, she was weighed down by guilt, and self-imposed solitude. I loved Lucy. But, I loved her more during her twilight years, when she couldn’t enjoy her father’s company, when she was lovelorn, and when she made the most compassionate choice of gifting her time to the man, because of whom Lucy’s life slipped away from her. Although she couldn’t forgive herself, Lucy embraced the perpetrator with unconditional kindness. I will remember her for that. Maybe, Lucy never knew that her selfless act toward the end was her redemption, the comforting end to her tragic tale.