From the book jacket: Ben is, at last, leaving home. At twenty-two,
hes the youngest of the family. His mother Edie, an actress, is distraught. His
father Russell, a theatrical agent, is rather hoping to get his wife back, after
decades of family life. His brother, Matthew, is wrestling with a relationship
in which he achieves and earns less than his girlfriend. His sister Rosa is
wrestling with debt, and the end of a turbulent love affair.
Meet the Boyd family and the empty nest, twenty-first-century style.
Comment: Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) enjoyed looking below the surface of domestic life to challenge assumptions. His granddaughter, Joanna, carries on this tradition. Her latest novel, Second Honeymoon (an ironic title), opens with the somewhat histrionic Edie surveying the empty room of her son, the last of her children to leave home, taking his mother's identity with him. Edie's eternally patient husband, Russell, sees the removal of his last child as something of a relief, after all Ben is 22 years old and has only gone as far as Walthamstow, at the other end of the tube line, to live with his girlfriend in her mother's house. Russell is looking forward to spending some time with his wife and, fantasizing about romance returning to their lives after an absence of almost three decades, urges her to adjust - but Edie, who had a lackluster acting career before starting to breed, doesn't want to adapt, as for too long motherhood has been her shelter from "not risking failure or disappointment".
Much to Russell's delight, Edie absentmindedly lands the role of Mrs Alving in a regional production of Ibsen's Ghosts. However, Russell's hope that this will be a turning point for her is short lived; the actor cast as Mrs Alving's son is a young man straight out of acting school who is both emotionally needy and in need of feeding up, and before we know it Edie has taken him under her wing and into her house, leaving Russell gasping with frustration.
Meanwhile, Edie and Russell's daughter Rosa, homeless, jobless, and up to her neck in debt having left her useless ex-boyfriend, asks her father if she can come home. Russell initially turns her down, so she moves in with Edie's sister Vivien instead, who has troubles of her own, torn between allowing her despicable husband back into her life or standing firm.
However, Russell's thin line of defense proves to be no match against the combined onslaught of his family. Matt leaves his girlfriend because he is embarrassed to admit to her that he doesn't earn as much as she does; and Ben finds his girlfriend's mother's higher domestic standards hard to live with. One by one the children scuttle for home, and his wife can't wait to return to her role as haphazard housekeeper.
With the family home bursting at the seams with 6 adults in residence (2 parents, 3 children and one stray actor) Edie's wish has come true, but she, like her children, comes to realize that it's not possible to turn back the clock and recreate the happy chaotic family coherence they once enjoyed. Worst of all, she can no longer solve all their problems and make everything right for them - there is no going back, only forward, and she, Russell, and the children must all find their own paths.
Sometimes at BookBrowse we're so busy seeking out books set in new and interesting locations or about unexplored topics that we overlook the tales set closer to home - the endless dramas of ordinary life that take place behind our own closed doors and those of our neighbors. Joanna Trollope is the British doyenne of middle-class domestic drama, having explored marital breakdowns, adoption, step-parenting, and any number of other social dilemmas that make up modern-day family life, and Second Honeymoon is considered by critics to be one of her best books in years.
This review is from the March 8, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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