Rose Tremain has won the Orange Prize, the Whitbread Award, the Sunday Express Book of the Year and been short-listed for the Booker Prize. So what is she doing, writing a crime thriller? Because you can hide the fact that Trespass, published in 2010, is a novel about murder.
Maybe she didn’t realize that’s what she was about. Perhaps she thought this terrifying and bleak story documenting the cultural clash between rich, cultured English people and a provincial French family was the usual contemporary literary fiction that is expected from Tremain’s pen. After, the narrative is beautifully written, the language deeply satisfying. But I don’t think so. She knew what she was doing. After all Tremain is now in her seventies and so just the right age to take over the Crime Writer’s Crown from P G James. And her take on a crime thriller is edged with noir. Each character is filled with deep psychological pain and the opening is classic crime fiction; a young schoolgirl sees something in the waters of the river. She runs, screaming. The book then takes us from the beginning of the story that leads up to the event which made her scream.
Don’t suppose she’s going to listen to me – why should she – but I think Tremain should keep going with crime. The late PD James said that “A detective story can give a much truer picture of the society in which it’s written than a more prestigious literature.”http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/27/pd-james-in-quotes-adam-dalgliesh And, interviewed, would you believe it, by Amazon Books, James is quoted as saying “Murder is the unique crime, the only one for which we can make no reparation, and has always been greeted with a mixture of repugnance, horror, fear, and fascination. We are particularly intrigued by the motives which cause a man or woman to step across the invisible line which separates a murderer from the rest of humanity. Human beings also love a puzzle and a strong story, and mysteries have both”. http://www.amazon.com/Talking-About-Detective-Fiction-James/dp/0307743136
So go for it, Miss Tremain. Your exquisite prose and consistently dark themes are perfect for creating crime noir, and I for one enjoyed Trespass as much as Music and Silence and Restoration. The characters are filled with real existence, despite being to a person damaged by their troubled histories. There is no sympathetic protagonist to latch on to, but even so this is a compelling story.
The novel centres around Mass Lunel, a crumbling, ancient family farmhouse in the Cevennes in southern France, the home of Aramon Lunel, a man who is so ridden with guilt at the crimes he has committed in his past and now sickening from a very unhealthy lifestyle. He hits on the idea of selling the house and land, which would net him more money than he has ever imagined. But he needs the help of his half-sister, Audrun, who has suffered a lifetime of abuse at his hands and is now exiled to an ugly modern bungalow on the edge of the land. She is horrified at the idea of selling the family home, especially as her home, and the forest land she inherited with it is threatened by the sale. Alongside this fear, she is already festering with long-term hate and resentment towards Aramon.
We have already met Anthony Verey, an elderly antiques dealer with a penchant for young men. When he hits financial trouble in London, he visits his sister, who is living in the Cevennes with Kitty, her lover. Kitty has never been able to stand Anthony and is suspicious of the close bond between the siblings. She know that Anthony would be pleased to break up their French love nest and his horrified when Anthony announces he’s going to buy a property in the area. It’s not long before he claps eyes on Mas Lunel, and he loves it from the start. But he does not love Audrun’s bungalow. He covets her land, too.
Tremain makes this story a forensic study of the way the shadows from the past always catches up the present until the climax mingles loss of justice with issues of identity and the philosophy of what happiness really is.
This is a troubling book, because it takes crime seriously, examining it for what it really is; messy, dirty. No one comes out of the events within the novel very well. The complexities of all the various relationships and their secret agendas, flare up, as we reach the denouement of the story, and as the book closes, real flames flare, leaving the reader gasping with the strength of the symbolism within it. Tremain wants you to go on thinking about impasse she’s created, long after you close the pages.
So, even though Tremain writes literary, prize-winning fiction, I recommend that you read this book as if it were a psychological thriller, and then you won’t be disappointed at all.