City of Friends by Joanna Trollope

Work and female friendship are central themes in Joanna Trollope’s latest novel, City of Friends. This is the story of four women who met as economics students and whose friendship has endured into their forties. Each has a successful career but struggles to balance her personal and domestic responsibilities with work.

For Stacey, a senior partner in an equity firm, the drama begins when she seeks flexible working. She wants to work from home so that she can keep an eye on her mother who has dementia. But instead of acceding to her request, the company makes Stacey redundant. She is stunned. It’s the first time in her life that she has been unemployed and she quickly begins to lose herself.

For university professor Beth, the drama is the breakdown of her relationship with a younger woman.

Management consultant Melissa’s drama begins when her son Tom decides to build a relationship with his father’s family.

For investment banker Gaby, work always comes first. This creates tension with her husband Quin and also impacts her relationship with her children, Taylor, Claudia and Liam.

City of Friends — Minor Characters

Trollope cleverly interweaves these domestic dramas using minor characters to create connections and tensions in the individual friendships between the four main characters.

Of the four, Gaby is the one who most often speaks to the virtues of work. For example, in a letter to her eldest daughter Taylor, she advises: “Try to focus on work rather than falling in love. That may seem a classic mother-not-understanding thing to say, but it’s work that will keep you going through love and children and marriage, it’s work that will actually provide more fun than almost anything else that happens to you.”

Each of the four main characters is defined by work as much if not more than by their personal relationships. And for each, to some extent it is, as Gaby says, work that keeps them going. But friendship also keeps them going and never more so than when work knocks them down.

The Soldier’s Wife by Joanne Trollope

Joanna Trollope is a master of domestic drama and The Soldier’s Wife is quintessential Trollope, gentle, insightful, sympathetic.

A new novel by Joanna Trollope is always good news for this reviewer. Ms Trollope is the master of domestic drama. Her characters are believable and the challenges that they face are the ordinary family relationship problems that most of us encounter as we move through life – relationships with children, with parents, with partners, with friends  usually presented from a woman’s point of view.

Fiction readers  who are fans of Joanna Trollope’s fiction, will not be disappointed by her latest novel, The Soldier’s Wife.

Dan Riley, an army major, is just about to return from a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan whens The Soldier’s Wife opens. Alexa Riley is the soldier’s wife in question. Alexa has a daughter, Isabel, from an earlier marriage as well as twin three-old girls.  She also has a good friend in Jack Dearglove as well an extended family made up of her parents plus Dan’s father, George, and grandfather, Eric.

The Soldier’s Wife sensitively explores problems in the relationship between Dan and Alexa. Alexa is frustrated by Dan’s seeming unwillingness to communicate. Although he is back from Afghanistan, it feels like he is not really there. He spends too much time with army colleagues, too much time with his friend Gus. Alexa is frustrated that the army seems always to come first. When Isabel gets into trouble at boarding school, Dan puts an army family day ahead of going to see the headmistress. For her part, however, Alexa doesn’t try to reschedule the appointment. Each sees the situation only from their own point of view.

Yet, this is a couple that loves each other and loves their family. For his part, Dan tries to protect Alexa from the horrors of war that he has witnessed. His father, and more especially his grandfather, both of whom have had military careers,  understand this but they also like and ‘esteem’ Alexa and are anxious to help when it appears that the marriage may be in trouble.

The Soldier’s Wife is a novel where all the characters are well intentioned. It’s a novel where family wants what is best for family. It’s quintessential Trollope – gentle, insightful, sympathetic. If you liked her earlier novels, then I think you’ll like The Soldier’s Wife.

See also City of Friends and The Other Family

Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope

I downloaded Daughers-in-law by Joanna Trollope to my Kindle to read on holiday this week.

Daughters-in-law tells the story of Rachel and Anthony, a couple in their sixties, whose three sons – Edward, Ralph and Luke – are married to three very different young women. Edward’s wife is Swedish and they have a daughter, Mariella, who to my mind is the most endearing of the characters in this novel with the possible exception of the Swedish mother-in-law whose cameo appearance reveals her to be the fount of good sense and who is largely responsible for stimulating the rebuilding of the Brinkley family relationships.

Like so many of her novels, Daughters-in-law by Joanna Trollope is less about plot and more about emotion. On the surface it’s a typical middle-class, comfortable world where Rachel, as matriarch, presides over all from her well-stocked kitchen. But beneath the surface there is a lot more going on in Daughters-in-Law and much of it is rather bleak because for all their inter-connections, fundamentally Trollope shows just how alone each of these women – and indeed their men – really is. So, yes, it’s a holiday read and, as always in Joanna Trollope’s novels, it is beautifully written and absolutely engaging. But don’t be surprised if you come away thinking a little uncomfortably about your own family relationships and perhaps feeling a little less secure as a consequence.

If you like Daughters-in-Law, you might also like The Soldier’s Wife.