Read from my TBR pile
Rachel and Anthony have raised three sons and Rachel has devoted herself to her boys entirely. When her youngest son gets married, the last to do so, Rachel at first thinks that things will remain the same. Luke and his new wife Charlotte will come from London to Suffolk to see Rachel and Anthony just as the other boys, Edward and his wife Sigrid and their daughter Mariette do. Middle son Ralph, his wife Petra and their two boys live nearby and Rachel and Anthony see them often.
But Charlotte has other ideas. Rachel finds her control beginning to disappear and she finds herself on the outer with not only Luke but also her other sons as their own wives flex their muscles and things begin to change. Suddenly the home at Suffolk, once filled with activity and family on the weekends, is quiet. And even worse, Rachel doesn’t feel supported by her husband, who thinks that she needs to let the women do their own thing. Begin their own traditions. Do things their own way. Rachel wants all of her sons back at her table, she wants to be involved in their lives. Instead she feels they are shutting her out. And the daughters-in-law are too.
The situation escalates as things are said and done in the heat of the moment and all of the relationships in the family are put in jeopardy. Each couple has not only their own situation to work through but also everyone else’s and the fragile bonds that make up a family could be torn apart permanently.
A little while ago I read about this book and ended up buying it and about three other Joanna Trollope novels. I’ve read one of them and it was okay but this was the one that I was most interested in reading out of all of them. I have made it a bit of goal for the blog this year for at least one weekend review to be of a book that has been on my TBR shelf for some time. I am trying to read more of the books I’ve owned and neglected and so far I’ve managed to do pretty well (I am aware that it’s early days yet!). So yesterday I picked up this one to finally give it a go and see what other people were so admiring of.
This story seems simple at first – a devoted, perhaps slightly overbearing mother coming to terms with her youngest son marrying and the way in which her new daughter-in-law’s ideas change and shape the family relations. However once I started reading I realised that this front was quite deceptive. This is a complex story with complex characters and just when you think you’ve settled in to thinking you have a bit of an idea who is at fault or who you sympathise with, everything turns on its head.
Rachel is quite an all-in person – she mothers her boys like they’re still young. She has reservations about her first daughter-in-law Sigrid who is Swedish, held the wedding in Sweden and went back to Sweden to her mother after she gave birth to Mariette. By contrast the family adopted Petra before she married Ralph and they adore her. She’s a sort of helpless soul, looked upon as someone who needs help and looking after. Rachel and Anthony see her frequently and they help out with Ralph and Petra’s two young boys. Ralph is a bit difficult and I think at some times, Anthony and Rachel are relieved that he found someone as easy going as Petra. When Luke marries Charlotte, it’s immediately different. Charlotte is the youngest child in her family and she’s used to being spoiled and cossetted. She’s very pretty and Luke is besotted. Charlotte is very used to getting her own way and immediately starts flexing her wifely muscle by declaring they won’t be going to Suffolk to visit, instead Anthony and Rachel can come to them.
I am a daughter-in-law and I have two sons. My parents live interstate so there’s never been the push-pull factor of balancing both families on birthdays and celebrations. Mostly it’s understood that Christmas Day is always spent at my in-laws. Never anyone else’s in the family. However in 2012, we took a holiday and went and spent three weeks with my parents for Christmas. It was the first time I’d had Christmas with my parents since 2006 and the first time they’d had Christmas with my boys. It was fabulous. I’d forgotten how much I missed some of our traditions including my Nan’s wonderful roast pork. My in-laws are Sicilian and tend to always cook Sicilian food, so on Christmas Day we have usually roasted a pork ourselves and taken it down. So on one hand, I could very much understand Charlotte. I’d quite like to have a Christmas at my own home, except I know that if I did, no one would come. Christmas is, after all, at the in-laws. Always.
But Charlotte was self-entitled and spoiled and a bit rude. Both she and Rachel were jostling for position of superior woman in Luke’s life and Rachel was always going to lose and have to learn to compromise. Both of them have very set ideas and think they’re both right and that the other is trying to be difficult and/or undermine them and in many cases, they’re both right. Charlotte is manipulative and mean – the thing about her rules for telling families of a pregnancy was just ludicrous. But the lack of communication was key in this story – the women hardly ever, if at all, spoke. They both just bitched and complained to the men and the men basically had no idea how to sort it out. It isn’t until the end when everyone gets together and spends time together as a family that things begin to make slow progress and improvement.
The dilemma of Ralph and Petra was another one that interested me. They seemed hopelessly unsuited and Petra frustrated me. It’s all very well to not care about money – but you still need it to live whether you care about it or not. I felt that she was selfish refusing to move in order to support Ralph in the job they both needed to survive, just because she didn’t want to leave the sea. We all do things we don’t want to in order to survive – it’s called being a grown up. Ralph was not the easiest man in the world to be married to (although of all the characters, I do feel Ralph was the most undeveloped) but the way Petra drifted around like some kind of vacant hippie was maddening. People had helped her far too long and she seemed to think that if she just kept drifting around the situation would right itself at some stage, probably through someone else helping her again. She needed to grow up and take some responsibility and realise that sometimes you have to do things that might not seem attractive for the family as a whole. And yet I couldn’t dislike her as such, despite her extreme naivety in many situations.
I found a lot to relate to in this book and also a lot to worry about in the future! It’s a very well woven story that showcases many sides of an issue (and occasionally, some non-issues) and does a fantastic job of portraying a family, warts and all.
Book #28 of 2014