Reading guide for Second Honeymoon by Joanna Trollope

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Second Honeymoon

A Novel

by Joanna Trollope

Second Honeymoon
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 320 pages
    Mar 2007, 336 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

In Brief
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 modern relationships.

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.

For discussion
  1. 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?
  2. '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?
  3. ' "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 independence?
  4. '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?
  5. '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?
  6. 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)
  7. '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?
  8. 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 Honeymoon?
  9. 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?
  10. 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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