Empty nest syndrome is preventing Edie from moving on. Her three children have all left home and husband Russell is looking forward to them spending time as a couple again. But eldest boy Matthew earns less than his girlfriend, who is ready to move up the property ladder, and he’s not happy. Rosa has a secret mountain of debt, and the strain of living with his girlfriend’s mother begins to take the shine off being part of a grown-up relationship for youngest boy, Ben. Meanwhile, after a stalled career, Edie lands a part in an Ibsen play, only to find herself offering an empty bedroom to her down-at-heel stage-son. Cue all three adult children eventually asking to come back, and their bohemian family home is fuller than ever.
Not as light as the title might suggest, and I really enjoyed this. A good, easy read without being overly sentimental. A touch of light comedy about it too, as well as Trollope’s usual insight into the complexities of family relationships.
A compelling story of a boy winning against all the odds through an educational system beyond his social level, but never beyond his abilities. And his hard-working, widowed mother, Maisie, is determined to give Harry the best of opportunities. But past encounters with an ex are never far away, and when Harry befriends Giles Barrington, his meddlesome, fraudulent father, Hugo, does his best to deny what happened between Harry’s mother and himself all those years ago.
A slow start, but then the story began to really draw me in and the big question about Harry’s parentage ebbed and flowed beneath the surface until the build to the denouement – where everything falls apart beneath an avalanche of revelations. I wasn’t quite convinced that both Hugo Barrington and Maisie Clifton would have allowed matters between Emma and Harry to get quite as far as they did, not without some sort of intervention. Hugo perhaps, because he was such a cowardly toad but Maisie had a good handle on moral responsibility and lived for her son, so I’m not sure she would have simply stood by. Not only are there some unresolved threads in this book, but the story ends on the most terrific cliffhanger of a plot twist, so if you prefer everything to be tied-up with a ribbon by the last page, you might feel cheated.
The writing itself is concise and to the point and without too much of a descriptive slant, but it’s a clever structure and the likeable characters combined with steadily building tension, kept me turning the pages. There are slightly overlapping timelines shared between the characters but I liked this structure as it allowed for a greater understanding, not only of the character viewpoints and motivations but in the way it brought to light more and more subtle information. This is a heart-warming story, an easy-read of a historical family-saga with a slightly soapy feel. The sort of fiction which doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and I really enjoyed it.
Florence, Elsie, and Jack, live in sheltered accommodation. When a new resident arrives Florence is convinced it’s someone she used to know, but how can it be when he died more than sixty years ago? As Florence lies waiting for someone to discover her after a fall, her mind takes her on a trip down memory lane. Perhaps she’ll discover who keeps moving her elephant and buying so much cake, and what really happened to Ronnie Butler.
Anyone with personal experience of dementia will perhaps be better placed to relate to this novel – especially the ending – because its strength lies in the observed detail and the superb characterisation not only of Florence but also of those working in sheltered housing or caring for the elderly. The secondary characters in this novel are as strong as the main protagonist, which goes against the grain but Handy Simon and Miss Ambrose not only lift the narrative, but help to set the mood. I love, love the dark humour mixed with poignant insights about life, death, and where we fit in the grand scheme of things, the sort of things we think about as we age and look back. The language, and the nuts and bolts of the writing are faultless and cleverly crafted. My personal enjoyment flagged a little here and there, especially through the mid-section and occasionally where the time-slips caught me out and also, because its incredibly difficult to write engagingly and consistently about such a tough subject. This is a very real book, maybe a little too real to be classed merely as fiction and escapism, but fair to say the essence of it crept under my skin.