Book Report: Trespass

trespassTrespass was written by Valerie Martin and published in 2008. Although I normally don’t do this, lets start with the jacket summary:

Chloe Dale’s life is in good order. Her only child, Toby, has started his junior year at New York University; her husband, an academic on sabbatical, is working at home on his book about the Crusades; and Chloe is busy creating illustrations for a special edition of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Yet Chloe is disturbed—by the aggression of her government’s foreign policy, by the poacher who roams the land behind her studio punctuating her solitude with rifle fire, and finally, by Toby’s new girlfriend, a Croatian refugee named Salome Drago.

Raised in the Croatian expatriate community of New Orleans, Salome is a toxic mix of the old world and the new: intelligent, superstitious, sly, seductive, and confident. But Salome’s past is a mine of dangerous secrets, and the violence that destroyed her homeland is far from over. Chloe distrusts her on sight, and as Toby’s obsession with Salome grows, Chloe’s mistrust deepens, alienating her from her tolerant husband and besotted son. Rich with menace, the novel unfolds in a world where darkness intrudes into bright and pleasant places, a world with betrayal at its heart. In shimmering prose Valerie Martin raises the question: who shall inherit America?

The narrative jumps around to the points of view of each of the Dale family members; Chloe, Brendan and Toby. The novel takes a very confrontational tone straightaway as Chloe meets her son, Toby and his new girlfriend, Salome for lunch. Salome is beautiful, exotic and mysterious, and she and Chloe take an immediate dislike to each other. From the first meeting, Chloe knows that Salome has Toby under her spell. She doesn’t trust Salome, believing that she is after Toby because of his money or because she sees him as an easy target for some other exploitation. When Salome winds up pregnant, Chloe is even more suspicious and does nothing to hide her contempt. Toby’s father takes a more neutral tone – yes, Toby and Salome don’t know each other that well and yes, they are awfully young to have a baby, but he doesn’t believe that Salome is toxic. In fact, he is quite intrigued by her.

Salome is from a Croatian community in New Orleans where she lived with her father and brother after they escaped the war. Salome’s mother died during the war along with her little brother. Or so she always thought. When Salome and Toby go to Louisiana to tell her family that she is pregnant, her brother is absolutely furious. He attacks Salome and yells horrible things about her and her mother – he speaks in Croatian so we never know his exact accusation. When Toby and Salome return to New York they get married and a few days later, Salome disappears. It turns out that Salome’s brother let her in on a little secret – their mother, Jelena, is alive and Salome tracked her down to Italy, where she traveled in secret. Eventually Toby joins Salome in Italy, which really pisses Chloe off cause now there are two mysterious, bohemian women taking her son away from her. Jelena’s story is interspersed throughout the novel and at first we don’t know these recollections of the Yugoslavian war are Salome’s mother. Told as a kind of oral history, Jelena’s story is heartbreaking and all the more so because its only one of many that are just as bad or worse.

This book was so not what I was expecting. With words like “toxic, sly, seductive, menace, betrayal” you’re expecting a bit of suspense maybe? Some delicious twist or deviousness to this exotic girl? But really, there isn’t. This book, at its core, is about a mother who does not want to share her son with others, especially people who aren’t like her. The only betrayal is that of every child who grows up and makes their own family. The animosity between Chloe and Salome is so petty and basically unfounded that I just didn’t comprehend it; the strength of their contempt for one another didn’t make sense. The narrative too was all over the place, skipping from character to character with no real purpose. There were a few plot points, and one in particular, that just felt like a cop out and a way to get the characters where the author wanted them. I enjoyed the way Martin incorporated Jelena’s story but it creates a kind of suspense that doesn’t really end up going anywhere so I felt pretty let down. I also thought the descriptions of Chloe’s work as an artist and her Wuthering Heights project were well done. While there were sections of Trespass that I enjoyed, I really wanted to love this novel and expected a complete page-turner and I didn’t get that.

2 thoughts on “Book Report: Trespass

  1. I feel like it’s rare for me to hear about you disliking a book (that you’ve finished at least), so this was a refreshing read. Your reasoning for disliking it was so well explained, too, which is rare in the world of reviews. I feel like most of the time people just say “ugh, you know, I just hated it!”


    1. Thanks Court! You know its hard for me to be disparaging about any book but yeah, this one was not my cup of tea. I just wanted so much more from it that it was a definite let down. I wouldn’t rush out to get it if I were you.

      Have you started Room, yet? 🙂


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