I had lunch with Jill (a writer friend) recently. I asked her, ‘how many men, do you think read Joanne Trollope?’ to which she replied, ‘not many!’ The purpose of asking her was to introduce a discussion about authors who are considered exclusively female or male reading. It goes without saying that not many men read ‘chick lit’ (although I sampled Cecelia Ahern to see if she was any good as a writer and discovered that actually she is quite amenable). But you will never find me reading a Barbara Bradford Taylor tome, or Jilly Copper or, indeed, Jackie Collins. Personally, I would find them torturously boring and tediously pretentious from the snippets I’ve seen or heard about. At the end of the day though, people are perfectly free to read whatever interests them. However, it is recognised that some books and authors are more readily acceptable as male or female reading. Having said that, women who read gritty SAS style macho thrillers will be less frowned upon than men who read about romance or books filled with emotional turmoil. Would P.D. James have had as much success if she published as Phyllis James or would as many boys have taken to J.K Rowling and her Harry Potter novels had she styled herself, Joanne Rowling?
I wanted to read Joanne Trollope because she is loosely connected to the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, although not a direct descendent. I have seen her books in bookshops for eons and wanted to see whether or not she has literary talent. She has, and I actually enjoyed this book – although it’s not entirely without fault. But overall, it provides an easy-to-read, enjoyable portrayal of family life. The book centres on the Boyd family – Edie and Russell and their three grown-up children – who, one by one, have all left home only to return, one by one, after relationship problems and financial difficulties forces their hand to call upon their parents for emotional and financial support. The plot is sound and the characters are believable. The storyline is well-spaced, giving the reader ample time to get to know Edie (an actress) and Russell (a theatrical agent) and see how they cope with the many dilemmas of family life, whilst wishing that each of their children could live independent and happy lives without allowing their paternal obligations to over duly distract them from their own lives and time spent together. The book is well crafted. The characters are wonderfully described. Trollope displays an incredible skill at making ordinary mundane happenings sound interesting. I liked her wise observations of human nature which sometimes prompted me to put the book down whilst reading to reflect on some of her wise and shrewd musings. All loose ends are firmly tied up in the closing chapter which brought the book, with its many twists and turns, to an appropriate closure. My only criticism of the book is that I found the dialogue clunky in parts and sometimes confusing as to who said what.
Anyway, I now add Joanne Trollope to my literary repertoire and won’t dismiss the idea of reading another one of her novels sometime in the future.
© Declan Henry