20 March 2006

Second Honeymoon — book review

Guest blogger Heather Pollitt reviews Joanna Trollope's latest family drama.

Second Honeymoon - Click for details and orders at Amazon.co.ukJoanna Trollope has added another digestible item to her Aga oeuvre with Second Honeymoon: a title that remains ironic up to the distinctly Shakespearean denouement. Issues of a second-wind career emerge with a vengeance for resting actress Edie Boyd when she pulls a major role in Ibsen's Ghosts after a life of family chaos, albeit of the positive, feel-good type. Ben, the last of three children has just left home and Edie reflects that 'almost everything you have carried in begins to leak out again and you are left clutching fallen curtains at ten o'clock on a Saturday morning instead of applying yourself to quality cuisine'.

Her ambivalence about taking the part stems from this empty-nest grief that she feels and expresses in work, deed, and gesture. Sniffing her sons tee-shirts, keeping a shrine of teenage bedroom squalor might evoke heartfelt empathy from many middle-aged female readers. On the other hand, those of my persuasion could be frustrated beyond words at what seems such a waste of time and talent on Edie's part.

Such is Trollope's skill in inviting a range (no pun intended) of responses to what has become a middle class malaise. Nurture your children to the extent that they dump you in favour of the better life you've shown them, and, what's more, they don't give a toss about what happens to you in the process.

Edie is also shown essentially as a wholesome, modern woman with an alternative attitude to housekeeping. 'Washing the floor was never for her going to take priority over helping Matt make a model or dancing with Rosa in front of the landing mirror'. Rosa observes also, of Edie, 'Some people bought vacuum cleaners for their efficiency and not solely because they had a jolly little face painted on the cylinder'. This wackiness totally compensates for the earth mother syndrome.

Husband Russell, long-suffering quasi-new man, is unequivocal in his vision of life after parenthood. 'Being together' free from hassle 'finding each other' and returning to connubial bliss constitute his life project. Feeling excluded by Edie's grief he states, 'Edie I want you back. I was here before the children and I'm here now - and I'm not going away!'

Edie regards this with unflattering disdain but does accede to Russell's encouragement to resume her acting career. He tolerates her friendship with Lazlo, her stage son. This liaison ironically reflects Edie's real-life motherhood and is at the centre of the plot development in this wittily moral tale.

Even the cat, Arsie, is used for dramatic and comic effect in soliloquies delivered by Russell at times of extreme stress. 'Please oblige me', he begs the cat. 'Please take pity on how weary I am. Please don't behave like all the others'.

In terms of plot structure, Trollope is a master. This facility saves all her family novels from the mediocrity of such lightweight works as populate the '3 for 2' tables in our high street bookshops.

Frequent scene-cutting creates a lively dynamic that presents more of a collage than a linear narrative. This works well to cinematic effect in showing the Boyd family and its various extensions as work, friendships, and emotions unfold. It also creates a cliff-hanger effect. The transitions are seamless but provocative as we're taken from the Boyd house, to the theatre, then straight to Matt, who's breaking up with his power dressed partner.

Edie predictably imports Lazlo into the home and this event is the start of the repopulation and eventual overpopulation of the household. The plot driver depends on Edie getting what she hankers for. No need to spell out the consequence of this.

As the curtain falls on this drama that is not without farce, blended with wit and plenty of human warmth, each member of its cast has learnt a huge lesson. This seems to be that we're not programmed to go backwards, and the moral - things can seem inordinately rosy in retrospect.

Other MODERN FICTION reviews

Joanna Trollope, Second Honeymoon, London: Bloomsbury, 2006, pp.336, ISBN 0747580634

Click for details and orders at Amazon.comClick for details and orders at Amazon.co.uk

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