Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
As actress Edie contemplates the yawning chasm threatening to engulf her now
that her third and last child has flown the nest, her husband, theatrical agent
Russell, quietly relishes the thought of having her to himself once more, after
nearly three decades of devoted parenthood. Edie decides to tread the boards
once more, landing herself a part in Ibsen's Ghosts and surprising
herself with her accomplished performance. But before long all three children
find themselves returning to the family home: Rosa, still struggling with the
aftermath of a disastrous love affair, loses her job; Matthew's relationship
with girlfriend Ruth is strained to breaking point; whilst younger brother Ben
needs to give his own girlfriend, Naomi, some breathing space. With
characteristically perceptive observation and astute characterisation, Joanna
Trollope explores the dilemmas that face both parents and children as they cope
with finding new ways to live, both with and without each other.
In Detail Joanna Trollope began her working life as a researcher for the Foreign
Office, learning skills which she still puts to good use when researching a new
novel, seeking out and interviewing people whose experiences mirror the dramas
played out in her characters' lives. After a twelve-year stint as a teacher she
turned her hand to writing historical romantic novels, beginning with Eliza
Stanhope, published in 1978 under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey. It was not
until the late 1980s that she began to write the kind of fiction which has
become her hallmark: novels which delicately dissect the myriad complications of
She has described the nineteenth century as 'the Golden Age of fiction', and
likes to refer to her ancestor of this period, Anthony Trollope, as the 'real'
Trollope. Like him, she excels at the intelligent examination of those small
troubles and everyday traumas at the heart of ordinary lives. For Joanna
Trollope, fiction provides both entertainment and enlightenment: 'You learn more
about your fellow humans from fiction than from non-fiction. If you want to
learn what it was like to be in the retreat from Moscow, read War and Peace,
not The Cambridge History of the Napoleonic Wars. I think it's there to
console, to illuminate, entertain. You know that wonderful thing Anthony
Trollope said about nobody getting in closer to a reader than a novelist, not
even his mother. It's the confessional.'
Joanna Trollope is an acute but sympathetic observer, examining the shifting
alliances and emotional upheavals of relationships from all sides, refusing to
pass judgement and often leaving the ending open for her readers to decide. Her
later novels have tended to be concerned with particular (and diverse) issues,
from the pitfalls of being single in Girl From the South to the
difficulties of identity inherent in adoption in Brother and Sister. In
Second Honeymoon she tackles the loneliness of the 'empty nest' for both
parents the mother left wondering what do to with her life, the father hoping
for the return of the woman he married while casting an eye over the problems
that bedevil the next generation, in particular women struggling to combat
stereotypes and reconcile the conflicting pulls of work and family.
Finally, those lazy critics who once dubbed Joanna Trollope's the writer of the
'Aga saga' should take note: Second Honeymoon has more of the bleak than
the cosy about it. What's more, after spending time with her at a recent
literary festival in Brazil, Salman Rushdie described Joanna Trollope as 'very
cool' and 'so smart', resolving to read all her books.
How do Russell and Edie differ in their reactions to Ben's departure? Why is
Edie so resistant to being alone with Russell? Is he so selfish to want her to
himself? How realistic are his hopes that they can return to the marriage they
had before they became parents?
'Crying for Eliot was crying for a lost small boy, not crying for a lost
role, like Edie,' thinks Vivien (page 50). Is this fair? How do Vivien and
Edie's reactions to their 'empty nests' compare? How do they fill those nests?
What kind of relationship do the two sisters have? How does Edie's mothering
compare with Vivien's approach, and with that of Naomi's mother?
' "God!" Russell said. He tried a little yelp of laughter. "End! Does
parenthood ever, ever end?" (page 8). Parenthood, it seems, is for life, but
what about childhood? How does each of the three children feel about their
'It was a system, Matthew thought, that had worked well for two and a half
years and that his parents would consider not just barmy, but over-controlled to
a point of inhumanity.' (page 39). How does Matthew and Ruth's relationship
compare with Russell and Edie's marriage? Are there reasons why Matthew might
prefer a controlled relationship?
'The Victorians had described women who were hell bent on higher education
as agamic, asexual. How many people still, Ruth thought, including a shrinking
part of her own outwardly accomplished self, would have agreed with them?' (page
287) What do you think? Why is it so hard for Matthew, and to an extent Ruth, to
reconcile her superior earning power with her femininity and his masculinity?
How does her pregnancy change this?
How do the preoccupations of the female characters differ across the
generations? Is Ruth more likely to be fulfilled than Edie or Vivien? What about
Kate, who thinks, 'Married pregnant, working. Go, girl.' (page 90)
'Once I'd have hit the telephone. Once I'd have immediately rushed round to
Dad's office and rung Mum and texted Ben and generally gone into overdrive. But
I don't want to now. I don't remotely feel like it.' (page 268) What has changed
for Rosa? How have Matthew Ben and Lazlo, Edie's honorary son, changed by the
close of the novel?
Joanna Trollope is not a comic novelist but her writing is laced with humour.
How would you describe that humour? To what end does she use it in Second
Many critics have noted the acuity of observation in Trollope's
characterisation. How does she set about building her characters? Which
characters did you feel were the strongest in this novel and why?
Why do you think Trollope chose the title Second Honeymoon?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Bloomsbury USA.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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