The Other Family by Joanna Trollope
The Other Family is a great example of what the British writer Joanna Trollope does best – she’s written 15 contemporary and historical fiction novels, all of which have been bestsellers, and I think one of the reasons they strike such a chord with readers is that they portray all manner of life events in interesting and compelling ways – the things that happen to ordinary people, like death, divorce, falling in love, infidelity, general family drama – she engages you from the first page and you get carried along because you have to know how the characters are going to react to whatever has been thrown across their path.
In this vein, The Other Family has a premise that sucks you right in – it begins with the very sudden death of Richie Rossiter, who’s a musician in his 60s with three teenage daughters that he has with Claire, who he’s been with for 23 years, a very happy relationship, but for one thing – and this is the fulcrum of the whole story – despite Claire’s very much wanting it, Richie never married her, and instead stayed married to Margaret, who he left for Claire when his and Margaret’s son Scott was fourteen.
Margaret has never really gotten over it, and the cat is put among the pigeons when Scott insists that he and Margaret attend Richie’s funeral, and the two families come face-to-face for the first time – they’ve always known of each other’s existence, but have never had any kind of contact, living at opposite ends of England.
The tension is then racked up even higher when Richie’s will is read, and it’s revealed that he has left his beloved piano to his first family – and of course Claire can’t contest anything because she is not his legal wife.
It’s a very strong set-up, and then the action starts moving in some unexpected ways, as his three daughters all react very differently to the aftermath of their father’s death – prompted by the piano issue, one of them makes contact with her half-brother, and Claire is also faced with the financial implications of losing the family breadwinner – she was a talent manager and Richie was her only client, so she has nothing to fall back on.
A technique Trollope uses that works well with this kind of multi-faceted story is that she writes in the third person and gives each character a turn to unfold their part of the story – so we see how Margaret reacts to Richie’s death, and the effect it has on her relationship with her son, and how Claire and the three girls individually come to terms with their new life and also being confronted with the two other people in their father’s life.
Joanna Trollope’s been writing professionally for 30 years, and it really shows in this book – she handles this range of characters so artfully and truly knows how to hold her reader’s attention.
She has said that we should never underestimate the ‘power of story’, and that no one, of any age, can resist the lure of what happens next – she certainly practices what she preaches because The Other Family is all about what happens next, so if that’s your cup of tea, you won’t go wrong with this one.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Published by Simon & Schuster