Fran, trapped in a soulless marriage with a controlling bully of a man and an indifferent son, lives for her sensitive, secret lover. They hatch a plan to make a new life together. But when the final rendezvous goes awry, she is left with a heart-stopping race to retrace her steps and resume her old life before her indiscretion is discovered. But what has happened to Jack? His silence is painful and confusing. Jack is married to Helena, trapped in a marriage with a needy, volatile, wealthy woman dependent on alcohol and irritated by Jack’s lack of creativity and earnings. But as their relationship begins to fragment, Fran finds the strength to break free of her destructive marriage to discover not only does she have the wherewithal to be truly independent, she’s found the confidence to build relationships based on truth and reality.
Such clever writing, in that my allegiance was with Fran, the ‘other woman,’ the whole way through, and not Helena. Full of tension, especially throughout Fran’s half of the story, and so addictive! It really kept me turning the pages. And as well as a pacy plot moving between Fran and Helena, there is real depth to the characters – whether we like them or not – a reality-based insight into relationships, love and marriage, and children. I love how the entire cast knits together, how they rise and fall by their own hand. It delivered all the elements I enjoy in a novel.
As sisters, Eleanor and Kat Keating couldn’t be more different but with a scatterbrained, alcoholic mother and a somewhat misguided, controlling priest for a father the family unit was always going to be one of intense diversity. When Eleanor leaves home for university, the relationship with her sister undergoes subtle changes. It becomes even more fractured when Eleanor’s handsome friend, Nick, is captivated by her younger and prettier sister. Many years later, Nick has married into a wealthy family in South Africa. A near-death accident forces him to re-evaluate his life and pick up the threads of his friendship with the Keating girls, and although the trail of lies he is fed eventually leads to a reunion of sorts, there are innumerable hurdles to jump before the truth is finally laid bare.
I was fully engaged in this story from the first to the last page. Terrific character development centered around basically good girls – but the products of bad parents – coupled with a lifetime of misunderstandings which only become clear as the novel develops. Skilfully written with a deep understanding of the nuances and the sometimes see-saw of emotions within different relationships.
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.