Monday, December 22, 2014

Empty Nest and/or Wishful Thinking

Second Honeymoon by Joanna Trollope


Edie is an actor, but raising her three children Matthew, Rosa and Ben, made her put most of her career on hold. After the last of her children finally moved out, that nest seemed suddenly very, very empty. This doesn't bother her husband Russell; he's thrilled he'll finally have Edie to himself. Well, as much to him as her career will allow, that is. Of course, Edie's sister Vivian isn't going to help much, since she's been clingy since her divorce from Max.

I've always enjoyed Trollope's novels, mostly because she makes you see her characters. Her ability to get into different people's heads, and understand them and their situations is uncanny. However, with this novel, I'm afraid she bit off a touch more than she could chew.

Edie is the focal point character of this story, with a larger than usual cast of characters whose influence on Edie is such that they aren't as minor as they could have been. This isn't to say that Trollope only concentrates on one main character in her books, since she always has many minor characters as well. However, with "Second Honeymoon" I feel she's spread herself a little thin since most of the minor characters here get more highlights than usual. With this, we end up not knowing Edie as well as we could, and I felt that this book suffered because of it.

Then there are the sub-plots. There's Edie's sister Vivian and her relationship with her ex-husband Max as he tries to re-enter Vivian's life. This interesting sub-plot provides a counter-point and parallel to Edie's own changing family situations, especially considering that they're as different as two sisters can possibly be. While that sounds okay, the problem here is the addition of about six more sub-plots, all of which are equally interesting. There's Russell's own re-assessing of his agency vs. his attempts to have Edie all to himself. We also have Matthew's relationship with his girlfriend Ruth. Let's not forget Rosa's financial and employment problems, coupled with her involvement with the young co-star in Edie new play. That brings us to Lazlo, the young actor Edie has taken under her wing. Rosa also has her friend Kate who is a newlywed and just found out she's pregnant. That Kate lives near the new posh apartment that Ruth just purchased which Matthew couldn't afford to buy with her - thereby causing a rift between them, is yet another angle here. Finally, we have Ben and his moving out to live with Naomi at her mother's house.

Is your head reeling yet? Well, truth be told, it isn't as complex as I've made it sound. Trollope's saving grace is that she is able to juggle all these stories together and keep her readers from being confused. What's more, she does all of this in less than 400 pages of text. Nevertheless, with that sort of brevity, we end up with only fleeting glimpses of many of her cast. This means that the type of psychological depth that usually accompanies Trollope's works is sadly missing here. That is why I believe she was a bit over-enthusiastic in tackling this large group, despite her obvious great affection for all of them. I'm wondering if she had downplayed some of these sub-plots, and perhaps even deleted one, she might have had more leeway to beef up the more interesting sub-plots, and then made Edie more central to it all.

Still, there is something very comfortable about reading Joanna Trollope, and this one is no exception. The language flows easily, without any flowery pretence, and we can depend on getting a plateful of honesty with every page. This makes reading her stories a pleasure rather than a chore, and this one was an easier read than most. More importantly, she typically leaves some loose ends, while offering enough conclusions or partial solutions to make her stories realistic. I consider this a real asset to Trollope's talent, and despite my reservations about this particular novel, I'm still a huge fan of her writing.

If you ask me about recommending this book, I'd have to say only maybe, but probably not. Devoted fans will still want to read anything that Trollope has to offer, and nothing I can say here will deter them. Still, I can't give "Second Honeymoon" more than three stars and would tell those new to Joanna's work that they're better off reading something else of hers first (such as "Other People's Children," for instance). Sorry, Joanna, but you didn't charm me with this one, but I still love your novels.

"Second Honeymoon" by Joanna Trollope published by Transworld released October 8, 2010 is available on Kindle from Amazon, Nook from Barnes & Noble, other eReader formats from Kobo, as an iBook or audiobook from iTunes, in paperback from The Book Depository, or from an IndieBound store near you.

This is a revised version of a review on Dooyoo under my username TheChocolateLady, which also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.