sex and tax and rock 'n' roll
The Other Family Joanna Trollope (Doubleday, £13.99)
Richie had been a famous singer, he and the glamorous Chrissie had decorated the pages of gossip magazines, but in recent years his career had begun to fade, along with his royalties. Chrissie, enraptured by his talent, had dedicated her life to managing Richie's career, but her loyalty hadn't exactly been reciprocated.
Although Chrissie called herself Mrs Rossiter and wore a diamond band on her ring finger, she had bought it on her own. Despite her wishes, Richie had chosen instead to stay married to Margaret, the woman he had abandoned in favour of the younger Chrissie so many years earlier. To all legal intents and purposes, she and Richie, parents to three almost grown-up girls and partners in life and work, had merely been cohabitees for the last 23 years. And now Chrissie is liable for inheritance tax and must face losing her beloved London home.
As Chrissie and her daughters struggle to cope with their loss, they receive yet another shock. For it seems that Richie was not quite as committed to the role of family man as he appeared. He had left his beloved piano and his earlier music royalties to 'the other family' -- 66-year-old Margaret, his childhood sweetheart who still lives in Newcastle, and their son Scott.
Margaret, who had never given up hope that Richie would return home, is relieved to discover he remembered them in his will, while the bequest has a profound effect on her son.
As Chrissie's life shatters, she and her two eldest daughters -- the spoiled and silly Tamsin and Dilly -- are caught in a web of indecision: the mother is unable to clear out Richie's possessions, one child threatens to move out but can't, while the other can't decide on a job.
Only 18-year-old Amy shows any sign of acceptance, as she reaches out to Scott and her father's origins. But this leaves her mother devastated and Margaret bewildered by the girl's attachment to northern life.
The Other Family is Joanna Trollope's 15th novel, and the queen of the Aga Saga has made a long and fruitful career out of writing about a certain type of English family life. While she has been derided for being too safe, too domestic, her formula has certainly paid off.
I've read several of her novels, and I think that the key to her appeal may lie in her warmth and understanding of foibles, as well as her ability to address the complexities of contemporary life and familial ties.
She brings a real emotional intelligence to her characters who are paralysed by grief and betrayal, each dealing with bereavement in different ways. The good get their just rewards in Trollope's world. Chrissie and the generous Margaret both learn to find consolation, while open-hearted Amy discovers a new life in this bittersweet, but uplifting, tale.
The author's legions of fans are bound to love her latest effort. Yet there is a slight sense with her depiction of the growing bond between a half brother and a much younger sister that maybe Ms Trollope wanted to branch out a little from the painful but familiar themes of betrayal and loss. Perhaps next time she and her readers may find the courage to move out of this comfort zone.