by Joanna Trollope
Kindle book - 24
I've read one other Joanna Trollope book called Other People's Children which I thought was excellent. She has her finger on the pulse of modern families, and does a really good job of presenting them in all their different varieties, without judgement. I think she's a wonderful writer. I really must read more of her work. I feel a bit of a Joanna Trollope marathon coming on, much like my Maeve Binchy one a few months ago.
This is a case of a book I almost didn't read. In the first chapter Anthony was ogling his future daughter-in-law at the church wedding. I thought, uh oh. I don't want to read about this. But I made myself continue to see if he acted upon his feelings or if those feelings were mentioned again. He didn't and they weren't. I just don't know why the author chose to even include this passage. The man was portrayed in the rest of the book as a good, kind, faithful husband so why put a rather negative impression in the reader's mind right at the start of the story?
Anthony and Rachel live an enviable life in the English countryside. They are happy together. He is an artist, and an art professor who has retired but still teaches one course. She has been the center of the family and her job has been cooking, organizing, gardening, keeping everyone together. Even as her three sons have grown up and moved away, she still has Sunday luncheons and celebratory occasions at the house. She thinks she does a great job, but behind her back her boys and their wives complain about her taking too much charge.
Although from the outside, I 'look' very much like her, in reality I am not at all. I let my children be. I don't insist on celebrating holidays or birthdays together. I do not pressure them to visit. I love my kids to pieces but I do not expect them to be my 'little ones' any longer. I want them to have their own lives. My main anxieties or worries are, as they have always been, concerned with health and safety - the only two issues I bring up with them if I am worried. My sense of self is not dependent on their wanting to be here, whereas Rachel's really is. She is a problem-solver as many women are and is unhappy when her solutions are not requested or required.
Rachel's mind and body thrived upon activity, upon practical and immediate answers to even intractable-seeming dilemmas, and, when she was thwarted of the opportunity to offer instant resolution, she found herself utterly devastated by her own helplessness.When she finds her Sunday routine upset, Joanna Trollope bares this woman's soul to the reader.
... resentment she felt at being forced to have Sunday lunch in Shoreditch rather than at her own large and familiar kitchen table, she knew she couldn't trust herself to say anything of which she could subsequently be remotely proud.The book fairly presented each character so the reader got to know and understand each one. There was just one false note - of a young man working at a nature reserve, who seemed to me to be an unnecessary addition to the book. He was more of a device than a person.
Daughters-in-Law could work as a primer for those of us who find ourselves suddenly and surprisingly with grown children. Where did the years go, and how do we cope? But it also serves as a guide to those children. Each son's marriage and lifestyle is different from the other, and from that of their parents'. We see how they are all trying to make their own lives. When the youngest boy Luke's wife wants to have his parents to their new home, he says,
"I have never had my parents to a meal. Not ever. In my whole life. We always went home, We went home to eat. That's what we did. Always."And his new young wife replies,
"That's why it's worth making an effort -"The reader is privy to conversations that as parents we do not ever hear. The young couple must work out which parents they visit and how often. It is an amazement to Luke that Charlotte, his wife, wants to tell her mother about her pregnancy before Luke's.
Sigrid, the wife of Ed, the oldest son tells Charlotte that Rachel
"... is as she is because no one ever opposed her, no one ever challenged her position as the only woman in a circle of men. But now she is having to learn something new, and she must learn to hold her tongue, and that comes hard with her."It is lovely to see the 'children' connecting with one another, and getting together in one of their homes, without parents. For this is their future. And all children know this on some level - that eventually their brothers and sisters will be the family after the parents have died.
This is a book where people grow and change inside themselves. They think and feel as real people do. I really enjoyed Daughters-in-Law immensely, and learned a lot about both parents and adult children. It was fascinating, illuminating, and filled with wisdom and truth. I loved it.
My friend Kay wrote a wonderful entry about this book, and you may read it here.