The Story Of Lucy Gault by William Trevor Viking $221 THOUGH 75 YEARS old and on his 23rd novel, William Trevor has lost none of his narrative power. His deceptively simple prose is deliciously whimsical and strips away unnecessary elaboration. He is a master of the gossamer touch, leading his readers gently through the lives and loves of ordinary people in an extraordinary way. This haunting story encapsulates Trevor's frustration at the sheer futility of human conflict in general and in his native Ireland in particular. The sorry tale of Lucy Gault's life begins to unravel when at eight, her family is thrown into turmoil following a night raid on their ancestral home in rural Cork by three local callow youths looking to strike a drunken and misconceived blow against British imperialism. Irish politics were polarised in 1921 and emotions running high. Lucy's mother, an Englishwoman, is wracked with fear and distress and persuades her husband Everard, a captain wounded in the trenches, to agree to follow the neighbours' example and flee to safety. His reluctance, despite coming under local pressure having winged one of the would-be assailants and being ironically sympathetic to their views, is outweighed by his love for, and loyalty to, his wife. What follows is a disaster for everybody. Lucy attempts to change her parents' minds by running away. The trouble is that she falls on the way far from help and circumstantial evidence points unequivocally to attempted suicide by drowning. By the time Lucy is rescued by servants, the captain and his wife had embarked on a programme of purposeless travel across Europe out of all contact in a doomed attempt to rationalise their loss. Lucy, meanwhile, is left in Lahardene House near the fishing village Kilauran (a fictional Youghal), carrying a slight limp and a guilt complex the size of a continent that dominates her for the rest of her life. Believing her parents have abandoned her for her recklessness and without forgiveness, she uses self-imposed exile in the house as a punishment. Even when the chance of true love rears its hopeful head it is dashed along with her other temporal desires on the rocks of her tortured conscience. As the decades drift by, the lives of the small cast of characters pass in a kind of pointless reverie punctuated by personal and emotional insouciance. Silence speaks louder than words. Like ghosts, their ephemeral fragility separates them from the mainstream of life. Their lives, characterised by a practised helplessness, barely touch - making everything seem just out of the reach of reality. Their dogged stoicism and almost blind faith defy the chaos surrounding them as insurrection in Ireland turns to civil war and Europe descends into its own military madness. Trevor does not miss the opportunity to vent his own feelings. The author paints Ireland as a country drained of energy by centuries of disaffection; a kind of punishment inflicted for the sins of the past. Everard speaks clearly when he says, 'It is our tragedy in Ireland that, for one reason or another, we are repeatedly obliged to flee from what we hold dear. Exile is part of us.' Using an almost limpid style, Trevor achieves the impressive feat of engaging readers' interest in characters looking, perhaps even fighting, to disengage. The story is a poignant saga in which the details lie in the lack of detail and which touches raw nerves with the skill of a brain surgeon. When Trevor concludes that Lucy Gault's life was one shaped by calamity when, so long ago, chance was so cruel, he could be writing an epitaph both for himself and his beloved Ireland.