`Daughters-in-Law' should intuitively reach out and appeal to a hefty chunk of the novel buying demographic. Joanna Trollope knows her market, and I'm well in her sights. Settling cosily into this latest family album I realised that she could be writing about me. I began to recognise the whole scenario with a chilling presentiment. What a rich lode she has struck, writing instructively for her contemporaries, women who have had inevitably to yield authority over their closely reared sons; changing their tactics in order to fulfil secretly held family based ambitions; while busily trying to develop new wiles and strategies.
At first it seems the whole book will be about Rachel but no, this story fans out to her growing and extended family; uncovering hidden dynamics and ambitions, the steely inner strength of her collective Daughters-in-Law and the quiet good sense of her ornithological artist husband Anthony. So each generation of women readers will find something to touch and recognise in the lively Brinkley family who we get to know so quickly.
Joanna Trollope has a beguiling talent for creating perfectly written children to people her plots. For me the innocently unguarded sayings of little Mariella and the touching depictions of Kit the toddler grandson, Barney the baby were worth buying the book for alone. She gets them just right, providing light relief as well as required pathos to the story.
She also has a delicious turn of phrase - my copy of the book already has highlights and reminders marking pertinent observations that resonated rather too strongly for comfort. So I found something personally helpful and useful in them. A series of lessons to take heed of!
No woman is ever allowed to carry on being her confident, possibly outspoken self when the nest is flown and the young birds are now mated; we have to re adjust, re invent and most of all learn to respect the new order. Pandora's box has been opened in `Daughters-in-Law'. Rachel was for her young sons, a `Tiger Mother', one who now cannot yet accept or see clearly what is happening to her life. Sands have shifted, tectonic plates have moved and she is no longer the centre of the universe, or Queen of Hearts. Her kitchen table is not the pivotal haven it once was, a centre of operations, a conference room, and a welcoming buffet. Now she and Anthony must travel grudgingly, grumbling, to London to visit their children in their new homes rather than have everyone always come to them. Three weddings have left her high and dry and we watch with guilty shaudenfraude from the sidelines.
The senior Daughter-in-Law Sigrid, the white-coated Swedish scientist who can coolly dissect motives and analyse emotions has most of the best lines. When talking to her Sisters-in-Law Petra, who is more openly loved and approved of by Anthony and Rachel by dint of being more dependant and initially requiring of nurture, and Charlotte the new young bride; she sensibly points out that Rachel made their husbands what they are, the men they married for love, and she certainly wouldn't want them all back at home again... This came across as impressive, memorable logic.
I really enjoyed the way grown up sons and their wives jostled for position, seniority and authority. Dipping in and out of favour, basking in the warmth of parental approval and then rejecting the offers of help well meant. Feeling they had to eventually include and `fess up' to the parents everything that happened, but only on their own terms. Also that Ralph was the uncontrollable one of the three, the one that set the tables turning. The dominating power of the telephone, carrying apparently reasonable requests for information evolves into being something rather rude and intrusive. As Anthony wisely points out - "Caring confers no right to interfere".
This deceptively simple story is realistically rooted on the coast of Suffolk, Aldeburgh, the RSPB reserve at Minsmere, also London, Arnold Circus, Hoxton, and Marylebone. These geographically opposite places each with their own special charm are all brought to life efficiently and helpfully.
All in all the theme of this book could be summed up in words from it - "Small children, small problems - Big children, big problems "...