I remember reading Joanna Trollope’s novels in the Eighties – The Choir, A Village Affair, A Passionate Man, The Rector’s Wife – and loving them. Somehow, I stopped reading her and I can’t remember why. These weren’t strictly her first novels, she’d previously published a number of historical novels under the pen name Caroline Harvey. So now I come to Mum & Dad. I devoured it in a couple of days, partly because it is set in a part of Spain I know very well, and partly because Trollope is a master storyteller.
When her husband Gus has a stroke, Monica’s three children descend to their parents’ vineyard in Southern Spain. Gus and Monica have lived near Ronda for twenty-five years; it is their home, but they are distanced from their children who have children of their own, busy lives and marital tensions. The eldest Sebastian runs a cleaning company with his wife, Anna, who has never got on with her mother-in-law. Katie is a lawyer who, with husband Nic, must deal with a bombshell dropped by one of their three daughters at an inconvenient time. And Jake, with partner Bella and toddler Mouse, seems to deal lightly with the truth and is oddly eager to move to Spain and help out his father.
The problem is, Monica is not sure any more what she wants. She loves her house in Spain but struggles with her irascible grumpy husband; she is terrified of what his stroke will do to his personality, and to their life. Their life there seems so settled. They run the vineyard and their house with the help of Pilar and a team of Spanish workers. Gus is proud of the awards his wines have won, and Monica loves her early morning cup of tea looking at the view south to Gibraltar. But now all this is under threat. Each of the three children arrives at the vineyard with their own ideas of what is best for Monica and Gus, and for themselves. What none of them anticipate is the way long-held resentments, jealousies and misunderstandings will affect what happens next.
Trollope is a master at showing the complexities of ordinary people, the things they don’t know about themselves, and the way families inter-act by sticking with good and bad habits ingrained by time as the normal way of communicating. When something happens, like Gus’s stroke, those habits are broken. Trollope turns a magnifying glass on petty jealousies, unrealistic expectations and lies told that are bigger than they first seem. She gets under the skin of how families react to challenges, how choices made by one member of the family affect everyone else, and where responsibilities lay.
The solution found at the end is perhaps a little too easy but this is a positive story about how lack of communication and the fissures this causes over the years, can be rectified with a little forgive and forget.
You can expect to read a lot more reviews here of Joanna Trollope’s books as I starting re-read them from the beginning.
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