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This novel is a superb read by Joanna Trollope. Trollope is a great story writer, involving you quickly in the lives of her characters and making you care deeply about their welfare. I find her a highly skill-full writer, who spins a tale from every day occurrences, which many of us will empathise with, BUT her novels still make you want to continue reading to know what happens next. The lives of the character's in her stories come to life and are very believable.
The novel begins with eight year old Rufus, at the wedding of his mother. He is musing over the complex family that he is about to belong to.
His mother, Josie, married his father, Tom, when pregnant with Rufus. His father had been widowed and already had two children by his first wife. There is a big age difference between them and Rufus and his half brother and sister, aren't close at all. Josie and Tom get along all right but are not 'soul mates' and then Josie meets Matthew, the love of her life, and a divorce is inevitable, for Rufus's parents.
Rufus, a reticent child, is bewildered. He loves both of his natural parents and would wish they could stay together. Everything now is strange. He has had to move away from a familiar home, and his father, to live with his mother and, about to be, step father, Matthew. To make matters even more confusing for this vulnerable young boy, is the fact that his stepfather has three teenage children who are very alien to Rufus.
Matthew's (Rufus's step father) children live with their mother but we see, further into the novel that she has many problems and the care provided is far from adequate. Not only that, but through her own hang ups she is poisoning the minds of her children against the marriage of their father and Josie. These three are trying to stay loyal to their mother and are terrified of letting their guard slip. Because of this when visiting their father, step mother and, of course, Rufus, the atmosphere is distinctly chilly. They will not give an inch and you can feel Josie's frustrations. I certainly wondered how she could tolerate the behaviour meted out to her, especially as so little support was forthcoming from her new husband.
As the novel goes on, one can sympathise with everyone in this complicated family's lives. We are given a fascinating insight into the modern day extended step family, and can understand how incredibly difficult it can be to care for someone else's children, especially if treated with disdain, or even, as in Josie's case, with contempt.
To make things even more complicated, Tom, Rufus's father finds a new love, but will his complicated, insecure and controlling daughter accept this new relationship, which she feels threatens the strong bond she shares with her father?
Throughout the novel my sympathy grew for Matthew's children. They are certainly the main, yet innocent, victims of their parent's mistakes. Of course, they act abominably to Josie, who really does bend over backwards to make them feel wanted but, when one sees the pressure piled upon them by their needy mother, it's understandable.
Mainly, though I felt for Rufus. He is such an amiable child and causes very little trouble to anyone. Mostly he is an onlooker, waiting and wondering and very puzzled.
Hopefully you have been able to follow so far as there are a lot of characters but when reading this book it is soon easy enough to follow. I have just explained the family set up but there are more extended family members to get to know.
I think Joanna Trollop would make an excellent counsellor. She is such an expert with relationships and appears to have an amazing insight into the many different perspectives and the problems involved. But, if she did this would we still have her as a novelist? Her tales are certainly a great addition to my home library.
I would recommend this novel to adult women. I found it interesting and enjoyable throughout. I also believe it may help and give hope to those in similar positions, living complicated family lives.
The novel I have reviewed is by Black Swan, It is an old edition as I purchased this from, Romford Marketplace, Romford, Essex, (as previously reviewed, 'Buy your books here and then take them back and buy some more!') for the price of £1.50.