Tuesday 20 March 2018

Review: Daughters- in-Law by Joanna Trollope

Doubleday, €21.99, Hardback

First-confession time: I'm a fan of Joanna Trollope's novels, and have been since I read A Spanish Lover, way back in 1994. That was her sixth book and one of her characteristic domestic dramas, dealing with the fallout between twins when one sister upsets the equilibrium in their comfortable family life.

Afterwards I devoured her back catalogue, including The Rector's Wife which made her a household name, and began looking forward to this prolific author's tales, including her latest and seventeenth novel, Daughters- in-Law. Although I did often wonder whether the middle-class English landscape that she so lovingly created really existed outside of her imagination.

Described as the Queen of the Aga Saga, a label she describes as patronising to the reader, Trollope is an Oxford-educated daughter of a rector and a distant relative of Anthony Trollope. She divides opinion between those who bridle at her safe world, and her thousands of fans who lap up every detail.

These include Fay Weldon who has said that Trollope "has a gift for putting her finger on the problem of the times. She likes to tackle the apparently easy, but really very difficult subjects -- how parents get on with their children and vice versa -- which many a lesser writer prefers to avoid".

Indeed Trollope doesn't shy away from addressing such thought-provoking themes as adoption, adultery and, in Daughters-in-Law, the thorny issue of what happens when our children no longer need us.

Now a grandmother in her 60s, the novelist is a shrewd observer of human life but she tempers her observations with a kindness and warmth that makes you care for her characters even as they display the less attractive sides of humanity. And Rachel, the matriarch in Daughters-in-Law, certainly isn't the most sympathetic of T rollope's creations.

She is the devoted mother of three boys and has always loved being at the centre of family life. But when Luke, her youngest, gets married to the beautiful and self-centred Charlotte, Rachel finds herself being sidelined in favour of her children's partners.

As a crisis looms for her difficult second son Ralph who is married to dreamy Petra, Rachel becomes truly distraught that she can no longer help. Terrified of an empty and meaningless future, she falls out with all those around her as she attempts to come to terms with her empty nest.

Literary snobs may scoff at such middle-class angst, but the rest of us will thoroughly enjoy Trollope's latest psychological offering. If I was slightly disappointed that Rachel's character wasn't as fully realised as I'd like, the novel's brisk pacing and good plotting made up for it.

Daughters-in-Law is sure to be another bestseller for Trollope, and in fact it's tagged as such on the book's hardback cover. Her publisher's confidence isn't misplaced.

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