Book Review: Rose Tremain's 'Trespass' is spellbinding

"Trespass" (W.W. Norton, $24.95), by Rose Tremain: In her latest novel, "Trespass," Rose Tremain uses delicate, almost gauzy, gorgeous language to gently place her tale in the most pastoral of settings -- a stone farmhouse in southern France.

But the contrast between the locale and the sinister tale Tremain skillfully unleashes is jarring -- like diving into "the drenching, reviving cold of the pool" as one of her characters, Parisian schoolgirl Melodie, experiences near the beginning of this spellbinding work of fiction.

At the heart of "Trespass" is Mas Lunel, the farmhouse inhabited by a family and left under less-than-upstanding circumstances to Aramon, an elderly and miserable man. His sister, Audrun, who's no less miserable, but left so by circumstances not of her own making, has taken up residence in a tiny blight of a bungalow at the edge of the family's land.

Because wealthy foreigners are flocking in droves to Cevennes, Aramon, who senses a small fortune, decides to sell. That action triggers a series of disasters -- big and small. It further alienates Audrun, but also attracts a down-on-his-luck London antiques dealer, his sister and her lover -- all of whom conceal secrets of their own.

Tremain's vivid imagination is beautifully conveyed here, and her storytelling is concise and expertly executed. Buoying the suspense and the thrill of her tale, her prose is steeped in despair. "The vine terraces crumbled. The rivers silted up. And nobody seemed to notice or care ... as Aramon sat -- in front of his vast TV, lasering his brain with kilowatts of meaningless light."

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