Captain Gault has decided that his family must leave Lahardane. They are after all Protestants living in the big house in rural Cork, and the country is in turmoil. It is 1921. But 8-year-old Lucy can't bear to leave the seashore, the old house, the woods - so she hatches a plan. It is then that the calamity happens - an accident almost, but so vicious in its consequences that it blights the lives of the Gaults for years to come. Trevor's new novel beautifully evokes rural Ireland and the tensions existing there, but also is Hardy-like in its portrayal of the impact of mere chance on a life.
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A difficult novel for any parent to read, William Trevor's The Story of Lucy Gault recounts the tale of a young girl whose Protestant family is driven from its rural Irish home in 1921. Eight-year-old Lucy is in love with Lahardane: the old house itself, the woods, the nearby beach, the shells and fir cones and sticks that she collected like treasure. The day before her family is scheduled to flee Ireland, leaving the house and furnishings in the care of trusted servants, Lucy runs away. Her parents, finding a scrap of her clothing on the beach, assume the worst. Days later, they leave Lahardane, choosing not to settle in England, as they had planned, but to roam Europe in their grief, leaving no forwarding address. But Lucy has not killed herself; she's only broken her leg in the woods. Eventually she makes it back to the house to find her parents gone. She spends her childhood waiting to be forgiven for her wicked act, postponing all happiness until she can be reunited with her mother and father. Revealing more of the plot will spoil this lovely novel for its many readers. It is enough to note that Trevor's characteristic depth and emotional complexity are fully realized here in the watchful reticence of his young heroine and the strange but beautiful way she finds to express her own forgiveness. --Regina MarlerFrom the Inside Flap:
In the early morning of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one, three arsonists ? shadows in the night -- arrive at Lahardane, the home of Captain Everard Gault, his wife, Heloise, and daughter, Lucy. The sheepdogs that alarmed the Gaults of previous trespasses had since been poisoned. On this occasion, though, it is a warning shot fired above the silhouetted heads that sends them retreating, saving the estate from being set ablaze. But blood speckles the pebbles of the approach in the dawn?s light, implying that the Captain?s single shot wounded one of the intruders.
Everard quickly learns the identity of the wounded -- a boy named Horahan -- and thereafter sets to make amends. His apologies and offers of restitution to the boy and his family are ineffective, however, and the Gaults realize then that further defiance to certain forthcoming attacks is senseless. ?The past was the enemy in Ireland,? writes Trevor. Protestant property was the common target in this time of insurrection and civil war, two years after Sinn Fein declared Ireland independent, and the Gaults had obvious British sympathies: Everard, a former British army officer; Heloise, an English wife and mother; Lahardane, an ancestral Irish property since the eighteenth century. It is too dangerous for them to stay. They too must desert Ireland like so many families before them.
Eight-year-old Lucy is never properly explained the danger of staying at Laharadane. It is the only place she has known; a place where the flow of streams around moss-covered stones, the bloom of the apple orchard, the pull of the sea?s tide, and the fishermen on the shore are the very fabric of her being. So it is then, forlorn and mournful, that Lucy decides to run away on the night before her family?s scheduled departure for England. However, when her parents find an article of her clothing on the shore where she frequently went swimming they fear the worst: that she has drowned.
Stricken by grief and remorse, devastated by guilt and blame, Everard and Heloise regard the plans they have made and retreat from Ireland. Windows are boarded, furniture is draped, and Lahardane is left in the care of their servants, Henry and Bridget. But almost as soon as the Gaults have left Henry finds Lucy -- alive, emaciated, her ankle broken and badly swollen -- in an abandoned cottage in the woods. The Gaults, however, have forsaken their intentions to relocate to England and have vanished into Europe. The trail following them is less than cold, their whereabouts critical yet unknown, and for thirty years this remains as they sojourn through France, Switzerland and Italy.
Henry and Bridget resuscitate Lahardane and take up custodial care of Lucy. As she matures, though, she also becomes more reclusive and insular. Children in the village refuse to play with her. She is stared at, spoken of in hushed tones and, over time, exiled. The anguish over her parents? fate wanes as the myth of hers similarly grows. She develops into a voracious reader and to a certain degree lives her life vicariously through the characters that populate the novels in her family?s extensive library. It is by chance then that at age twenty-four Lucy meets a man -- Ralph.
Ralph, a young Englishman, arrives in Ennisealea to work as a tutor to the banker?s sons for the summer. While on a drive, familiarizing himself with the Irish countryside, he happens upon Lahardane. Ralph and Lucy, upon meeting, are immediately enchanted with one another and Ralph, after his departure, can?t let a thought pass through his mind that isn?t of beautiful Lucy. Properly, he is invited back to Lahardane, as those closest to Lucy hold their breath and privately hope that Ralph will become her future suitor. Sadly, those hopes are dashed. The end of summer nears and so too does Ralph?s tenure with the Ryalls, but not before he pronounces his love for Lucy. Lucy?s self-reproach for the bisecting of her family weighs heavy, though. ?She believed she had no right to love until she felt forgiven,? and thusly she rejects Ralph?s affection and proposal of marriage. His love unrequited, Ralph returns to his English home and shortly thereafter enters the war.
Guilt-laden, unbeknown to them that their daughter and home persevere, Everard and Heloise live a life in exile on the continent -- an exile both self-imposed and inflicted by Mussolini?s war. It?s not until Heloise contracts influenza and perishes that Everard resolves to return to Ireland and the home he left behind three decades previous.
Arriving at Lahardane, the Captain is astonished to find the house unsealed and tended. Yet he is more astonished to find Lucy alive; the daughter he thought for deceased now a grown woman. But Everard?s return to a paternal relationship with Lucy is, logically, strained. Moreover, he feels undeserved of anything greater than the respect Henry and Bridget would extend to that of a stranger, for it is their house now -- as it has been since he entrusted it to their care with his exit in nineteen twenty-one -- and he is a phantasm. Still, Everard makes every effort to atone for his absence, for an adolescence and adulthood choked by his neglect, delinquency and taciturnity.
In the end, the forgiveness that Everard searches for is diminished by his daughter?s redemption: Lucy has forgiven the arsonist wounded by his single shot. It was the young boy, Horahan, who many, many years ago put the tragic sequence of events in their lives into motion. But it is now the older man, after unrelenting nightmares of successfully setting the Gault estate ablaze, killing Lucy, who is driven to insanity.
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