The Story of Lucy Gault by Willam Trevor is a heart-wrenching story of love withheld because of guilt and misunderstandings. Ann Patchett recommended this book as one of her all-time favorite books in a Parnassus Books Tic Tok. I’m a fan of Patchett and her recommendations, so I added it to my TBR list. So glad I did.
The story begins in 1921 during Ireland’s political unrest. The Gaults are a well-to-do family when three teenage boys try to set fire to their home, Lahardane. Captain Gault fires his gun into the night to scare them off but inadvertently injures one of the boys. When efforts to apologize to the boy’s family go unanswered, Captain Gault and his English wife make plans to flee Ireland, assuming there will be more violence to come. Their 8-year-old daughter Lucy doesn’t want to leave, and in an effort to prove her point, runs away. Through a series of misunderstandings, the Gaults come to believe their daughter is dead. Instead, Lucy has just been injured and when she returns home, she finds her parents have left the island.
And so begins The Story of Lucy Gault. From here, and perhaps because the narrative begins from such impetuous actions, the mood is one of reservation driven by guilt. Lucy, understanding her parent believe she is dead, is consumed by guilt for their unnecessary grief. Captain Gault is haunted by how he handled the night of the fire, and his wife believes she drove their little girl to suicide.
All the while, Lucy makes a life for herself at Lahardane, alongside Henry and Bridget, it’s longtime caregivers. But she maintains a simple life of restraint, unable to live or love freely until she receives her parents’ forgiveness.
The feeling The Story of Lucy Gault gave me was not unlike that of The Remains of the Day where emotions are suppressed in favor of reason, subordination or even penance. They are similar in their settings – both within the British Isles and the time period, which probably contributed to my consistently being reminded of the other work.
As with The Remains of the Day, The Story of Lucy Gault – even in its quietness – works its way into your soul and stays.
Book Club Prompts for The Story of Lucy Gault
Discuss the theme of guilt and the desire for forgiveness. Which characters demonstrate both and which have just one? How are some characters’ actions driven by guilt and/or forgiveness?
Is the premise of the novel believable? Why or why not? Is there a point up to which it is believable before it turns and if so, what is that point?
Lucy spends her days reading her father’s library and keeping bees. If you had Lucy’s life, what would you spend your days doing?
Ralph chooses to marry after Lucy’s refusal. Was he right to do so, and do you think he regrets this?
Discuss the nuns’ assessment of Lucy’s life at the end of the book. Do you agree and how so?
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