Friday book review – The Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 10th February 2012

After failing to be 100 per cent convinced by Joanna Trollope’s Daughters-in-Law, I decided to give her latest novel a go this week. The Soldier’s Wife certainly sounded promising. It’s the story of a mother-of-three whose army major husband has just returned home after a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

While her husband was away Alexa Riley did everything – looked after their three-year-old twins, coped with the boarding school misery of her teenage daughter, cooked, cleaned, mowed the lawn, serviced the boiler and got offered a prestigious teaching job. But far from being the blissful homecoming she expects, her husband Dan seems unable to adjust to family life again. As Alexa observes:  “He’s back, but he’s not back, not in any sense that’s any use to me or his family. And if one more person tells me just to give him time, or that I knew what I was taking on, or that I’m so lucky to have the security, I will just… kill them.”

Trollope has clearly researched army life meticulously. Indeed, as I mentioned last week, an army wife interviewed by Jenni Murray on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour said she’s got every single detail right in the book.

I don’t know much about modern army life but my father was in the RAF when I was little and lots of Trollope’s observations resonated with me. The married quarters painted in magnolia, the formality of the officers’ mess, the constant moving house (between the ages of five and eleven I went to six schools) and the dilemma of how army wives can keep their own careers going when they’re never in one place for more than two years. Some women put up with it – as a brigadier’s wife says in the book “you just adapt your skills and career ambitions to the Army” – but a growing number of wives, Alexa among them, are starting to question the frequent upheavals.

With military wives (and the brilliant Military Wives choir) very much in the news these days, Joanna Trollope has cleverly captured the zeitgeist in her latest novel. A far more substantial and satisfying read than some of her most recent books, it gives a moving snapshot of what life as an army wife is really like. Warts and all.

The Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope (Doubleday, £18.99)

8 comments so far

  • I’m really enjoying reading your posts Emma. Just wanted to let you know I’ve mentioned your blog on my site. Please let me know if there is anything you would like altered / deleted. I’ve tweeted you with a link to the post. In the meantime – keep up the great work here on housewithnoname!

  • Hi! I’m visiting from the LAB showcase(again!). I’ve never read any Joanne Trollope and although I’m not sure it’s for me, as I think it would be a bit too real-life for my liking. What I would love to know is how do you manage to read so many books?!

  • Hi Rhiannon. I am really lucky because I read v v fast. But also part of my day job is reviewing books – so it is work as well as pleasure. I get some of the books sent to me but I’m such a book addict that I can’t resist buying more…

  • I was wondering whether you would be happy to put up a link in my brand new monthly series called “Books You Love”. The idea is for people to link up posts about a book they loved – it doesn’t have to be one they just posted about. It could be an old fave. I am hoping we will end up with a nice collection of books that can go on our reading lists. Here is the link Books You Loved May Edition

  • Interesting blog about the Soldiers Wife. While I enjoyed the book and some of her perspectives on military life, at times it felt a little contrived. For example, some of her conversations in the book were more like speeches and didn’t seem like real words that people would say in a conversation. Did you find this?

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