Joanna Trollope Book review: The Other Family

The Other Family (Doubleday, £18.99).

Musician Richie Rossiter’s London family – 19 years younger partner Chrissie and their three beautiful daughters – have never given a second thought to the wife, Margaret, and son, Scott, who he abandoned ‘up north’ 23 years ago.

But when Richie dies suddenly, the fact that he has unexpectedly remembered them in his will, and in the most significant way, forces them to realise that he had ‘perhaps always been looking over his shoulder’ with affection and wistfulness at his upbringing and early career in Tynemouth.

Thus Chrissie’s feelings of bitterness because Richie would never marry her and her shock at realising she will have to find a new home and a job, contrast to those of the stoic Margaret, a successful musical agent in her own right, and Scott, who has submerged his inherited musical talent in a safe career. As a result of Richie’s bequest, the dead weight of years of bewilderment, grief and anger begins to dissipate and lift.

As the two families confront each other at the funeral, only 18-year-old Amy, Chrissie and Richie’s youngest daughter, is capable of seeing the bigger picture. Motivated by feelings of fairness and curiosity, she gets in touch with her new-found half-brother, Scott, and thus the healing process haltingly begins.

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At times, Joanna Trollope’s awkward syntax – it jars particularly if you come straight to this book from reading the lyrical likes of AS Byatt and Justin Cartwright – makes for rather basic prose. It’s her style to break quotes in the ‘wrong’ place, or place convoluted clauses at odd moments in sentences (why doesn’t it get edited?) but to be over-critical of this tendency negates Ms Trollope’s true talent for interpreting human emotion in the most compelling way.

She has the most perfect ear for the incomprehensible hurts which make people behave as they do, which explains why three grief-stricken sisters can sympathise over boyfriends one moment and gang up on each other and their mother the next. No character is one-dimensional, even the bit-parts: Margaret’s long-suffering assistant Glenda, with her crippled husband, Chrissie’s bossy best friend, Sue and her plumber partner, Kevin. Even Margaret’s self-contained cat, Dawson, has a complicated personality.

This instinct is Ms Trollope’s magic formula, and why she has produced yet another winner.

* Buy The Other Family by Joanna Trollope