Book Review – Trespasses by Louise Kennedy

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy is, at its heart, a story about an ill-fated love affair but its beauty and strength is that it becomes so much more than that, painting a rich and vibrant portrait of a whole community beyond our two lovers. This story is about an unexpected and forbidden love between young Catholic school teacher Cushla and older Protestant barrister Michael, playing out against the backdrop of the Troubles during the 1970s on the outskirts of Belfast; a love that ignites suddenly and flares up quite quickly. Against the odds, this love blossoms into something meaningful and, despite some reckless behaviour, seems to remain relatively well hidden until a devastating tragedy threatens to reveal all. 

Kennedy has a gift both for storytelling and character development; as their love story unfolds, we learn so much about Cushla and Michael as people and a pair, but we also learn so much about them – Cushla in particular – in their interactions with others, through an array of relationships and friendships. We see Cushla’s kindness, care and a strong sense of duty where needed – with her alcoholic mother and the ostracised young pupil Davy that she takes under her wing – but also weariness and a strong pull to follow her own desires – in her tense relationship with her brother Eamonn who has been burdened with running a pub in such difficult times, her pull towards a man that in every sense is ‘wrong’ for her, and her uncertain standing with his friends. I don’t see him mentioned much but I actually loved the development of her relationship with her colleague Gerry; an early suitor who would have been a much more suitable partner but with whom there just is no flame, and who instead turns into a close friend and companion, and I loved their dynamic. All these supporting characters are richly drawn and developed, with only slightly less attention devoted to bringing the rest of the community to life: the creepy priest, the headmaster anxious to please everyone, the bolshy soldiers that are woven into the daily life of this garrison village, and Michael’s circle of friends. Cushla’s inner thoughts are really well developed too, from her reflections on her affair, to her reflections on her Catholic Irish identity. 

This is a story that puts a lot of humanity and heart into a fraught and volatile period in this island’s history, breathing life into a whole cast of characters in this small community. The story shows not just the explosive violence that became such a normal part of life but also the more subtle and hidden undercurrents of danger contained in the support one showed, the allegiances made, the people befriended, and even the silences where things were not vocally denounced could lead to suspicion; everything and anything could have repercussions. The writing style is rich and darkly humorous, with great observations of the details of life creating a vibrant sense of place, time and context, from the daily domestic interiors to the surrounding rural landscape and the hum of village life. An immersive and compulsive read that draws us deeply into the lives conjured.


Trespasses was published by Bloomsbury in 2022.


Louise Kennedy grew up a few miles from Belfast. She is the author of the Women’s Prize Longlisted novel and Eason’s Novel of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards, Trespasses, and the acclaimed short story collection, The End of the World is a Cul de Sac, and is the only woman to have been shortlisted twice for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award (2019 and 2020). Before starting her writing career, she spent nearly thirty years working as a chef. She lives in Sligo.

4 responses to “Book Review – Trespasses by Louise Kennedy”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: