Doubleday, £18.99, 320pp. £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Soldier's Wife, By Joanna Trollope
Friday 27 January 2012
Back from six months in Afghanistan, Major Dan Riley has everything to look forward to. His tour of duty has been successful and he's up for promotion. He has a lovely wife, Alexa, a sweet step-daughter, Isabel and charmingly wilful three-year-old twins. He's the pride and joy of his ex-army grandfather and father. The dog adores him.
The return of the soldier, however, is rarely straightforward. In "the zone" at the Wiltshire camp, the Helmand hero finds it hard to readjust to home life. Clever Alexa with her first-class degree in languages feels frustrated and trapped. Isabel hates her boarding school so starts stealing and running away, there's a problem with one of the twin's eyes, and Alexa has been offered a good teaching job which she knows she can't accept. On top of all that the dog has lumps.
But Dan won't talk to Alexa, either about the horrors he experienced or her domestic worries. There's always some business with his men to be sorted, or he's popping out and propping up best mate Gus whose wife has gone AWOL. Soon everyone from wise old Granddad to the kindly brigadier is doing his bit to stop Dan and Alexa's marriage from imploding.
With her stories about the tensions of middle-class families, Trollope consistently picks women's-page issues. In The Soldier's Wife, she continues to explore the power balance in relationships and whether it's possible to be happy if we subjugate our desires to someone else. What better setting than the army? There's still no real role for the wives who follow the drum, but are just as educated and capable as their husbands. The men may crave the "comforting dictatorship of duties", but will 21st-century women put up with being Stepford wives on the Salisbury Plain?
The novel has a squad of decent people trying to do the right thing. Alexa's girlfriends call each other "babe", offer advice on having a row to clear the air and turn up instinctively at a difficult bath-time to help put the twins to bed. Jack, her overweight male chum, has the "reliability of the best kind of sister in a Jane Austen novel". He's forever ready at the end of a mobile with some tough love.
Trollope is no stylist and the world she creates is about as radical as a Cath Kidston teapot. She's a safe pair of hands, observing keenly the small things which betray us. When Alexa tells her mother how she loves Jack – but not the way you love someone you marry – Elaine looks away. "She appeared to be considering, with discomfort, the nature of the love you might ideally feel for someone you agree to marry."
Trollope seems genuinely to care about her characters and their difficulties. I'm just not sure that I do.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude pictures' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence 'The Fappening' scandal
- 3 Scottish referendum 'English question': Tory MPs call on David Cameron to create an English first minister in wake of No vote
- 4 Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster
Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea's 'Booty' music video is just a load of butts
Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Doctor Who, Time Heist, review: Keeley Hawes is marvellous but the Doctor is the real villain
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'