The Other Family; Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope

I countinued my Joanna Trollope fest by reading another novel of hers that has been on my shelf for ages (I think a free copy via a book club), Brother and Sister, and a newer one purchased via Amazon Kindle, The Other Family. I enjoyed both novels: the characterisations are in sharp focus and the pacing is faultless. There is too much wish-fulfilment which stretches credibility towards the end of both novels (The Other Family in particular), but on the whole these are very good dissections of contemporary emotional dilemmas. They are both extremely readable, which is more praiseworthy than sometimes admitted by reviewers.

The Other Family is about the aftermath of the death of Richie Rossiter, a successful popular singer, composer and entertainer. His partner Chrissie and their three daughters (in their early twenties and late teens) are devastated as well as adrift, as all four women have mainly existed as beautiful adjuncts to Richie rather than learning to stand on their own two feet. Richie was from the north of England and was first known when married to Margaret, now in her mid-sixties and living on her own, though close to her and Richie’s son, Scott. Chrissie, an agent, had met Richie 20-odd years ago when he was well-known on the northern circuit, and launched his career in London and the south, the couple in the process falling in love and setting up home together. Although Richie had abandoned Tyneside and Margaret, he had not ever divorced her.

The novel is told alternately from the point of view of Chrissie, Margaret, Scott and the youngest sibling, Amy, as well as occasionally by other characters. I particularly liked Margaret, perhaps the strongest (and strongest-drawn) character in the novel – she has lived through many changes in society, and her own circumstances have changed from an impoverished childhood to relative wealth when managing Richie in his early career and subsequently running her own small business looking after other local performers. The dynamics between her and her son Scott, another well-drawn character, are particularly telling in terms of their shared abandonment and their adaptations to it. The “other family” of Chrissie and daughters are harder to like, as they are mostly spoilt and sulky. The adversity they face owing to Richie’s death and subsequent revelations about his will, force them all to rethink their lives in different ways and become more independent (and hence nicer!). The final part of the book is the least successful for me, concerning how two of the half-siblings break the literal and metaphorical north-south divide in rather too much of a fairy-tale style.

Brother and Sister is another novel about strong emotions. Nathalie and David are siblings and extremely close; Nathalie is the partner of Steve who has his own design firm. They have a five-year old (insufferably cute) daughter Polly, who is slightly hard of hearing and needs an operation to remove some excess cartilage in her inner ear. This triggers a determination in Nathalie, who is adopted, to find her birth mother. Not only that, but she enrolls David, who owns a landscape gardening business and is father to three children, to do the same. The rest of the novel focuses on the fallout of Nathalie’s and David’s search – first of all the effects on their adoptive mother and on their partners, then on more people as the ramifications ripple outwards, and finally on the two birth mothers and their current families.

The reviews of this novel are not that kind, but I enjoyed it. Even though some of the dynamics and characters are somewhat irritating (for example, Marnie, David’s wife, and all of Steve’s work-based colleagues and connections), the central premise is a good one, and the interactions between the adult David and Nathalie with their respective birth mothers are very well done, with convincing emotional honesty and realism.

Read reviews of The Other Family at The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, and The Independent.

Read reviews of Brother and Sister at The Guardian, The Independent, and (much more positive) The Washington Post.

One thought on “The Other Family; Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope

  1. Maxine – Thanks, as always, for these excellent reviews. I think you’re spot-on about the way wish-fulfillment can take away from a novel. I’m not much of a fan of that, myself. But I am glad that you found these stories enjoyable. Some of those characters do sound interesting….

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