‘Trespasses’ book review: Love in turbulent times
Louise Kennedy’s debut novel ‘Trespasses’ is set in Northern Ireland during the 1970s when the country was going through the Troubles (an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted about 30 years from the late 1960s to 1998.) It’s a simple story that feels a little sluggish at times. Kennedy, by her own admittance, came late to fiction writing. Born a few miles outside Belfast, she spent almost three decades working as a chef, before writing the stories that made up her first book, ‘The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac’.
Cushla Lavery is 24 years old and she’s a primary school teacher in Belfast. She sometimes helps her brother, Eamonn, at the family pub, which is a regular haunt of leering and aggressive British soldiers. One day, she meets Michael Agnew. He is handsome and charming. But the Protestant barrister who defends unjustly arrested young Catholic men is also married. Michael asks Cushla to teach him and his friends to speak Irish. He takes her to an Irish-language evening and, on the way home, one thing leads to another and romance ensues.
But romance isn’t the only plotline of the novel. There are other narrative strands. Cushla’s mother is an alcoholic and there’s that mother-daughter dynamic in the story as well. Then there’s Cushla’s relationship with a boy from her class. Davy McGeown is bullied by his peers and Cushla kind of takes him under her wings. Then things come crashing down for Cushla and the narratives intersect.
Through the parallel storylines, you understand Cushla and see why she’s embarked on a forbidden relationship, despite maybe having faulted her initially. Trespasses is largely narrated in a series of vignettes with Cushla’s affair with Michael tying it all together. Violence is so normalized that it’s never actively discussed in the plot. But the threat of death, from bombs and guns, is evident on every page. Some chapters begin with news headlines about deadly explosions and arrests. You realize everything is happening in a war zone. It adds an underlying tension to the story and keeps you hooked.
This is more a character-driven story than a plot-driven one. Kennedy has fleshed out the characters really well and you find yourself empathizing with them all, even the gin-addled Gina. Cushla’s thoughts and dialogues are relatable and you will root for her despite her questionable actions in some instances. Overall, Trespasses is a beautiful and devastating novel that explores a lot of emotions.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Pages: 311, Paperback
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