14/02/2008

The Men and the Girls (by Joanna Trollope)

I started reading Joanna Trollope's novels about ten years ago, or a little more. It took me a while to get into her style but I enjoy it very much now. So I decided to re-read some of her books which I haven't read for a while.

It's ten years since I read 'The Men and the Girls'. Although I remembered the bare outline of the characters (two men in their early sixties married to women in their thirties) I had forgotten everything else about it.

I wasn't even entirely right about the people. Hugh, a television personality, is married to Julia. But James, an academic and Hugh's best friend, is living with Kate who has never wanted to settle down in marriage. Moreover, there were four other very important people I had quite forgotten: Hugh and Julia have delightful young toddler sons, and Kate has a teenage daughter called Joss, going through a rather difficult stage.

And then there's Miss Beatrice Bain, an elderly lady who is another academic. She enters the story right at the start, when James accidentally knocks her off her bike. She is not injured, but James strikes up a strange sort of friendship with her, and this is the catalyst for a lot of Kate's dissatisfaction to come pouring out.

Hugh isn't very happy, either. His career is on the wane due to his age, and changing styles. Julia, who is very well organised and confident, finds a good job which is also in television, but Hugh does not adjust well to his wife becoming the main wage earner.

It's a character-driven novel, and Joanna Trollope does it very well. The interactions between all the main characters are believable, and well-paced so that the story moves along at just the right speed. I particularly warmed to Joss, struggling with her identity, and a growing sense of independence which she inherits from her mother.

There are some quite strong issues covered in the book alongside the main people and their problems - battered women, euthanasia, the fickleness of the media. So it was quite thought-provoking at times, if not as hard-hitting as novels by Libby Purves.

I didn't find it compulsive reading, which is just as well as I had a busy schedule in the last couple of weeks. But I enjoyed it, despite a partly bittersweet ending, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a light modern novel.

Recently republished in the UK with a cover that I don't personally like nearly as much as the previous white one with an impressionist park scene on the front - but perhaps it will have a new appeal to a different audience. This book is also fairly often found second-hand.

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