Friday book review – Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 3rd February 2012

The first Joanna Trollope book I ever read was The Rector’s Wife. I was so captivated by her 90s tale of a vicar’s wife who shocks everyone by taking a job at a supermarket to make ends meet that I was desperate to read her earlier books. The instant I’d finished that one I rushed out to buy another, feverishly working my way through her backlist in the way I used to gobble up Enid Blyton stories as a child.

But in recent years I haven’t found her books quite so gripping. She’s as prolific as ever – Daughters-in-Law, her 16th Trollope novel, came out in paperback last month while her 17th, The Soldier’s Wife, is published in hardback this week. I’ve clearly got a bit of catching up to do because I’ve only just read Daughters-in-Law and while I found it enjoyable enough I wasn’t bowled over by it.

In theory Daughters-in-Law sounds exactly my cup of tea. It’s the story of Rachel, the mother of three grown-up sons. She’s devoted her life to bringing them up in an idyllic-sounding house near the Suffolk coast. But now the trio have their own lives to lead. The three sons, Edward, Ralph and Luke, have all married and two of them have children of their own. Suddenly Rachel isn’t at the heart of everything, as she once was, and she clearly doesn’t like it. As she tells her endlessly patient husband Anthony: “…nobody wants me to do something I’m good at any more.”

The trouble is that I didn’t care enough about any of these characters. Rachel isn’t exactly the mother-in-law from hell, but she’s blooming annoying, with a tendency to feel sorry for herself when things don’t go her way. Ralph, her middle son, doesn’t know whether he wants to be a city slicker or to drop out and live by the sea, and as for his hippyish wife Petra, well I didn’t find her believable at all.

I also had a problem with Trollope’s dialogue. It’s full of wise observations, articulately expressed, but everyone sounds exactly the same. If I closed my eyes and listened to it, I’d be hard-pressed to work out who was speaking.

But despite my reservations I’m still keen to read The Soldier’s Wife. It focuses on the lives of army families and sounds a far more substantial read. An army wife interviewed on Woman’s Hour this week glowingly said that Trollope had got every single detail right. Praise indeed.

Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope (Black Swan, £7.99)

4 comments so far

  • An interesting review.

    I absolutely loved the early novels, but found the more recent ones a little tedious. I thought the characters in Second Honeymoon were uninteresting, and the ‘story’ ridiculous, and I stopped reading Friday Nights around Chapter Three as I thought it unbelievable and dull.

    I quite enjoyed The Other Family, though, although I didn’t think it near as good as the earlier books.

    I shall read The Soldier’s Wife because I have a friend who was a soldier’s wife, who is a soldier’s mother, and who has written a book on the subject herself.

    Liz X

  • We clearly have similar tastes in books, Liz. I loved Joanna Trollope’s earlier novels but haven’t been so gripped by her most recent ones. The Other Family was fine, but not a patch on The Rector’s Wife, The Choir etc. Let’s compare notes once we’ve both read The Soldier’s Wife!

  • I also loved her earlier books, but haven’t read any for a while. I might borrow some of the more recent ones from the library and give them a go, but it sounds like I might not be that pleased.

  • Hi Tasha. Thanks so much for your comment. I’m going to read The Soldier’s Wife this week so will let you know what it’s like. The storyline sounds good, I think, so I hope it lives up expectations!

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