Other People's Children (by Joanna Trollope)

I've liked Joanna Trollope's writing style since I first came across one of her books, about ten or eleven years ago. Over the years I've gradually collected all her novels, and am now re-reading some of them.

I first read 'Other People's Children' in 2000, and thought it a moving, complex story. I'd completely forgotten the plot when I picked it up recently, and found it hard to put down once I'd started.

Josie marries Matthew at the start of the book; Josie's son Rufus is a sensitive child, and rather unsure about what's going on, now the stability of his life is shattered. Matthew has three children, who are rebellious and rude, and determined to make Josie hate them. To start with they live with their hysterical and obnoxious mother Nadia, who is determined to make them all suffer.

Rufus's father Tom is a nice man, and a good father. Rufus feels happier when he's staying with his father... except when his much older step-sister Dale is there. Dale is the daughter of Tom's first wife Pauline, who died when her children were young, and Dale has become selfish and demanding of attention from her father, and also her brother Lucas.

Tom falls in love with a client called Elizabeth, who is in many ways the ideal wife; she and Rufus become very fond of each other. Unfortunately, Dale is determined to dominate her father's affections...

There are a lot of people in this story, which makes it a bit confusing at times; however they're mostly well-rounded, and some of them (such as Rufus, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's elderly father) are very likeable. The difficulties and traumas of children in 'blended' families is explored from many angles, both from the perspective of the various children themselves, and that of the adults who suddenly find themselves having to care for other people's children.

There's quite a thought-provoking section near the end when Elizabeth's father talks about archetypal step-parents, and why so many in fiction are portrayed as wicked. There's also an underlying theme showing the pain caused to children, whether young like Rufus, or in their mid-twenties like Dale, when parents separate, or die, or re-marry.

At the same time, there's a feeling that it's important to let go of the past and move on, at whatever stage one is at.

Part of the ending was bittersweet, and part was encouraging. I enjoyed it very much and will no doubt re-read again in another seven or eight years. Published in 1998, but still in print in both the UK and USA.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 4th October 2008


Steve Hayes said...

Hi Sue,

A bit off-topic, but why don't you add this blog to your Blog Catalog list?

Sue said...

I submitted it, but it was refused - they said it was not the kind of blog that was suitable for their catalogue.