Thursday, 18 August 2011

Trespass by Rose Tremain

Dark goings on in the Cévennes mountains of Southern France. Rose Tremains’s novel Trespass examines the dark heart of two sibling relationships: Audrun and Aramon Lunel, living next door to each other in mutual antipathy; and Anthony and Veronica Verey, a writer and a failed antiques dealer who is looking for a new life in the rugged countryside of the Languedoc.

Audrun has put up with her violent and abusive alcoholic brother for her whole life but is secretly hoping that his health is finally going to fail him. Banished from the family home, an imposing mas on the side of a hill, she lives in a tiny bungalow on the edge of his land. Aramon lives in filth in the old house, permanently sloshed and surrounded by a fug of cigarette smoke:

She would see the strip-light blink on in the kitchen of the mas – that old green-tinged rod of light – and picture her brother stumbling to and from the electric stove, trying to fry lardons, gulping from his glass of red wine, dropping ash from his cigarette into the fat of the frying pan, picking up the bottle and drinking from that, his stubbled face wearing that fatuous grin it acquired when the wine excited his senses. Then, with a shaking hand, he’d try to eat the burnt lardons and a burnt fried egg, spooning everything in, with another cigarette smouldering on a saucer and outside in the dark the dogs in their wire pound howling because he’d forgotten to feed them... Upstairs he lived in grime. Wore his clothes until they stank, then hung them at the window to wash themselves in the rain, air themselves in the sun. And he was proud of this. Proud of his ‘ingenuity’. Proud of the strangest things. Proud that the father, Serge, had named him after a variety of grape.

Hoping to inherit the mas that she believes is rightly hers when her drunken brother pops his clogs, Audrun’s plans go distinctly awry when Anthony Verey is shown around by a local estate agent who has promised Aramon a price of several hundred thousand Euros for the family pile. Unfortunately, Audrun’s shack is spoiling the view and Anthony loses interest. Furious, Aramon comes down the hill to remonstrate. He is suitably fortified for any encounter with his sister:

He was drunk on pastis. His gaze looped and swivelled all around him. The sun beat down on his wild head.

He then makes a few wild threats before throwing up on Audrun’s freshly cut lawn. She refuses to budge... Watching his dream of impossible wealth slip away from him, Aramon dwells on the terrible deeds in his past and the unspeaking things he did to his sister:

He drank because of the weight of things. More and more, the alcohol was making him ill, he knew this, but he couldn’t find a substitute, any other way of sliding out from underneath the slab of memories that tried to crush him, crush him with guilt and with love the could never express.

He’s drinking himself into the grave and his body is protesting every inch of the way:

Aramon walked slowly, painfully back to the Mas Lunel. His feet hurt all the time. There was an ache in his hip. His gut churned with some kind of distress that wasn’t quite hunger and wasn’t quite sickness, but a mortal unease he couldn’t identify.

Still, if he thinks he’s got problems now, it’s going to get a whole lot worse when Anthony Verey disappears...


  1. What a sad story. I wonder if the reference to Aramon, the specific grape variety, is intentional. Aramon used to be widespread in the Languedoc producing large quantities of not very distinguished wine was the undiscerning local market. When the demand for this sort of plonk collapsed in the 80s, the area fell into a slump which it has never quite recovered from. Sounds a bit like Aramon the character.

  2. The reference is quite intentional; Aramon the character is quite proud of his name, although he wouldn’t be sober long enough to realise that his varietal namesake had entered a terminal decline. Tremain’s depiction of the Cévennes is full of great little details and she brings many of the issues that the region faces into the novel. It is a sad story, but I think it ends on at least one happy note, and it’s written beautifully so I can forgive it for being a little bit maudlin...

  3. That Rose Tremain - she thinks of everything.