Rachel has dedicated her married life to bringing up her three sons. When they marry and begin families of their own, their wives have their own ideas about family roles and interactions, and Rachel is often hurt. She says and thinks all the wrong things at the wrong time, and suddenly she is in danger of alienating herself completely.
This is rich, skilful writing; it does not rely on sensationalist plot twists, unreliable narrators, secrets or lies – it’s an intelligent observation of reality within family relationships, marriage, ageing, and what makes people tick. I recognised all the characters (although I did think three artists in one book was one too many) in people I know, even if the personalities were different, the traits and situations were the same. I could relate to the feelings from the young, first-time mother, to the bohemian wife torn in two by her husbands new city job, to the wife from a different country and culture, to the mother-in-law desperate not to be left out of any loops. The role which had been the centre of her life for so many years had suddenly turned on its axis, leaving Rachel lost and directionless, an acute condition for those who live solely for their children, and grandchildren. As Sigrid’s mother says; ‘there has to be enough in your own relationship and retirement to prevent you from living through (and therefore controlling) the life of someone else.’
Dan Riley is a British soldier, a vocational career which takes him aeons away from home life and often stretches him to break point. In order to survive mentally and physically he relies on his comrades, and they become such an important and integral part of his life that he finds it difficult to disconnect once home and on leave. Returning from six months in Afghanistan, Dan is faced with the minefields of family life and turns to his equally adrift friend.
Alexa has managed without Dan’s emotional and physical support for so long she’s unsure how the family dynamic will adjust on his return, since the life of a military wife is one built around her husbands career and often leaves Alexa feeling invisible. Moving and making a home so many times not only inhibits taking a job, but her older child is at boarding school in order to provide some sort of continuity, but Isabel is so unhappy that Alexa is forced to make several decisions.
This is a slow, considered novel with a light plot, but it is meaty on character. The writing is pared back and subdued, and Trollope observes the human condition with her usual mix of truth and wry humour.
When Jonathan Coulter passes away from MND, he leaves a legacy designed to dispel the rivalry between his three adult children, his estranged ex-wife, and his young partner. His children must decide how to divide his estate, and they have one weekend to plan how this will be carried out. If they fail to agree on anything, then they stand to lose their entire inheritance.
I really enjoyed this, such an unusual storyline. The family dynamic constantly shifts and as more information is gradually revealed about each character, the more compelling the novel becomes. Although the subject matter is sad and serious, the author has a good handle on balancing the ups and downs without the need for graphic description. Together with the quality of the writing, The Legacy is a sensitive, well-considered novel about people. Great scene setting in the coastal town of Scarborough.
Paul Mathry discovers his father isn’t dead after all – he’s in a high security prison where visitors are not allowed. Paul turns his back on his mother, his fiancé, and the prospect of a good job, and devotes himself to finding out if his father really is a murderer. He makes contact with the original witnesses involved in his father’s case, only to discover how thin the prosecution really was. His journey back in time is full of peril as he’s up against the powerful bigwigs of the town, those who see no sin in perverting the course of justice to suit themselves. But Paul’s dogged persistence, along with the help of new friend, Lena, and a news reporter looking for his big chance, pays off, and his father wins an appeal. Together, they manage to blow apart the original trial with solid evidence of wrong-doing. But Paul’s father, now freed from fifteen years of prison is not the kind, gentle man Paul remembers – he’s been hardened by the sheer injustice of it all and the cruel misery of prison hardship, and all seems lost until the final few pages.
This is classic Cronin; full of characters, one man fighting against all the odds and exposing how flawed the judiciary system can be. There’s always a strong feeling of integrity and honesty being played out against greed, and the worst flaws of the human condition, and every strata and class of life is well represented. Compelling, and thoroughly enjoyable.