In a drama that unfolds in the south of France, two sets of siblings cross the boundaries of one another’s lives, tragedy born in the forlorn heart of a lonely child. That all these characters are in their sixties gives this novel an unexpected piquancy, as diminishing years and expectations take a toll on the hopefulness of youth.
Aramon and Audrun Lunel grew up in a U-shaped farmhouse in the Mas Lunel, the house now a fragment of that former impressive compound, in great disrepair since being inherited by Aramon. In a shabby, ill-constructed domicile on the perimeter of her brother’s property, Audrun continues the marginal existence of her childhood, successfully avoiding Aramon until he assaults her with an announcement that he is putting Mas Lunel on the market.
Since foreigners arrive in France in enthusiastic droves seeking centuries-old homes with wooded forests, Aramon assumes a quick sale will facilitate the rosy future he dreams of in his nightly drunken stupor. Having annihilated the interior of a once dramatically beautiful home, his hunting dogs wailing in their pen from neglect, Aramon is secretly desperate to flee the mess he has created - and at the same time thrilled by the opportunity to further torture his sister.
Veronica Verey, a garden designer preparing a new book, lives on an estate near Mas Lunel with life partner Kitty, an artist of questionable talent and the ambition to illustrate Veronica’s book. When Anthony, Veronica’s brother, plans to sell his London antique business and move to France as a distraction from his mid-life crisis, Veronica is thrilled. Anthony has few regrets, leaving behind his stellar reputation as a collector, a shop filled with his “beloveds” and the ever less-frequent visits from beautiful young men interested in sharing his bed.
Veronica welcomes Anthony in one example of “trespass,” oblivious to the harm it may do her long relationship with Kitty. Indeed, the atmosphere in Veronica’s home is subtly altered: Anthony makes no secret of his distaste for Kitty and her pedestrian tastes, her homely face and small stature. Veronica hovers, prepared to accommodate her brother’s every need, while Anthony falls in love with Mas Lunel, Kitty all but ignored in the joy of the brother and sister’s reunion. In spite of Aramon’s careless squalor, the antique collector blissfully imagines the vaulted ceilings, the fresh paint - until Kitty points out Audrun’s cheap home from the upstairs bedroom window, a blemish that mars the pristine beauty of the landscape.
Gradually, Tremain reveals the shadowed past of Verey and Lunel: the Verey’s self-obsessed, often cruel mother; Audrun’s painful existence after her mother’s death; the savage cruelties of a merciless father and brother. While it is clear that Veronica has always been her brother’s champion, Audrun is the victim of her family’s dysfunction, suffering “episodes” that require medication to quiet a terrorized psyche. It is through these characters’ interactions that the power of the title is manifested, how trespass can tear a life from its moorings and plant the seeds of resentment and revenge.
The terrified scream of a ten-year-old girl catapults the novel past the discomfort of unpleasant relationships into darker territory, the past rising up to strike a fatal blow to the present and Aramon’s plans of wealth through Anthony’s ready pocketbook. In a clever twist, Tremain mines the history of these siblings and the neglected Kitty in an unexpected resolution. Youth can endure much, but age is a harder taskmaster: “Old age arrives in short flurries. Between the flurries… there’s a sort of respite.” Seeking respite, Anthony Verey becomes a catalyst for conflict with shocking consequences.