In the daytime, Cushla Lavery teaches seven-year-olds in a small town near Belfast, in the evening, she helps her brother in his pub. And in between, she makes sure that her alcohol addicted mother is still alive. There is not much happening in her life until, one evening, Michael Agnew shows up in the pub. He is a lot older than Cushla, but nevertheless, something sparks between them. Times are hard in Belfast when the war is raging in the streets and the news report deaths daily. Michael’s job as a barrister puts him at risk, yet, with Cushla, political tensions are far away. Until they aren’t anymore.
Louise Kennedy captures a life that is determined not by the person who lives it, but by outer circumstances. “Trespasses” oscillates between awful news and being alert all the time and intimacy which cannot exist openly. Her description of what people in the 1970s in Northern Ireland endured is full of brutality – but, I assume, absolutely accurate.
The most striking aspect of the novel was for me, how the characters organise their lives around the raging war around them. Cushla’s teaching that starts with a news session every morning which shows that even her 7-year-olds are familiar with the war vocabulary and for whom an assassination is just another death, just another family without a father, just another random note on the radio. The bluntness with which the author depicts these scenes is brutal and therefore gets close to the reader.
It is unimaginable how you can live and love in those circumstances, on the other hand, Cushla’s care for one of the boys whose family is seriously struggling underlines that in times like these, love and compassion is the only thing that’s left.
Definitely not an easy read but without a doubt one I can highly recommend.