By Joanna Trollope
Joanna Trollope's books have been derided for years by those who dismiss the homely tales as "Aga sagas", as if tales of heart, hearth and home were beneath readers and writers.
But the crazier the world gets, the more there are times when quiet compassion for the vagaries of the human condition is balm for the reader. This time, like every other, that is exactly what Trollope delivers.
Rachel and Anthony raised three sons. She's a vigorous, involved mother whose kitchen is the natural hub of the family. The two oldest sons are married and now the third has found his bride. Oldest son Edward and Scandinavian wife Sigrid have a daughter and an ordered life. Middle son Ralph's wife Petra was an art student of Anthony's who was taken under their wing and presented to their son; they have two very young sons. Now Luke has wed Charlotte, who also is the baby of her family.
Even during the wedding party scenes, the smallest ripples shimmer across the page to show that, although it appears all is well in these lovely lives, appearances are as deceiving as always. Everything and everyone at first appears competent, compassionate and capable. But they're nearly all hiding secrets of shame or fear of failing in ways that set each other off. Families, after all, always push the right buttons.
Things come to a head when one son's financial woes are taken on as a problem of the entire family and his wife has her own ideas about being led along by the nose to a solution. She strikes up a friendship with another man. It doesn't help that Rachel turns out to be the kind of mother-in-law who considers herself the head of the family, including the family of each of her sons. Her insistence that things be done a certain way and her ability to stick foot in mouth only add to the problems.
Then, just when it appears that each separate house of cards in the various families will collapse, Trollope's characters do what they usually manage to do. They speak openly and honestly to each other about themselves. They notice their own failings. They try to see situations from other people's points of view. And because Trollope writes about each character as if she or he were the main character of their own stories, the reader is able to see these other points of view as well.
Trollope's strength has always been this calm ability to treat characters as individuals who can actually carry through a line of thinking that encompasses more than themselves. Her novels are studies of minute shifts in people's perceptions of themselves and how they fit into their own worlds. Although their scale is small, their accomplishment is a great, good thing.
©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission