War stories


Valerie Martin <em>Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 304pp, £10.99</em>

Trespass is about invasion, and is framed by war. The Dale family, well-to-do Americans, protest at the coming war in Iraq, while Chloe protests at her son Toby’s disagreeable girlfriend, Salome, a refugee from former Yugoslavia. When Salome becomes pregnant, a fissure appears in the Dales’ untried domesticity.

The focus shifts when Salome learns that her mother, Jelena, is alive. One family story eclipses another. Gradually, Chloe becomes superfluous not only to her son and husband, but also to the novel, which is increasingly committed to Jelena’s harrowing experiences in a Serb prison camp and her new life in Trieste.

Valerie Martin, an experienced writer, convincingly describes an impressive range of emotionally complex characters. The plot is sometimes abrupt, but generally follows a credible, life-like pattern of uncertainty. This is at odds with efforts to harness or highlight recent historical events, however.

It seems Trespass would like to be a political novel, but the politics fail to impress; Yugoslavia and Iraq are never linked in any meaningful way, and one suspects they were included to lend gravitas. Trespass works best in its final pages, when politics are no longer an issue.

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Trouble ahead: the crises facing Gordon Brown