A word of advice for mothers of sons: before curling up with Joanna Trollope’s latest novel, pour yourself a stiff drink or a brisk cup of tea. You’re gonna need it.
Trollope, the best selling British author, writes books about families, what tears them apart and brings them back together again, usually in altered form. In Daughters-in-Law she deals with the often tempestuous relationship that exists when a son marries and brings into the family circle his wife, the other woman. Mothers of sons want their boys to settle down and raise a family, yet…be careful what you wish for…two women vying for the love and attention of one man, who often finds himself having to choose sides. It’s rarely a win-win situation.
If you are married, you probably have had to deal with a mother-in-law. If you’re not yet married, well, you have that in your future. If you have watched your son walk down the aisle, then you have had to adjust to the other woman in his life. If you are watching your young son play in the sand, wondering what woman will steal his heart, you have much to look forward to. In other words—this book is for you!
Rachel Brinkley and her husband, Anthony, already have two daughters-in-law, Petra, a flower child married to Ralph, the middle son and a bit of a child himself, and Sigrid, a Swede, married to the solid, eldest son, Edward. Now Luke, the youngest, is setting up house with headstrong Charlotte, herself the youngest of three daughters, and not about to cede any control to her new mother-in-law. Arm your stations!
Rachel’s home in Surrey, particularly her kitchen, has always been a gathering place for the extended family and she sees no reason why anything should change. Charlotte, however, has other ideas, inviting the entire Brinkley family to their newlywed flat in London for Sunday dinner. Anthony convinces Rachel to go, but the afternoon will bring the festering family hostilities to the surface.
The Brinkley men are all very different and, as a result, have attracted very different women. Petra starts out as the favorite daughter-in-law. Anthony, a well-known illustrator of birds, first meets Petra when she enrolls in one of his drawing classes. Taken with her talents and her low-key personality, he invites her home to meet Rachel. Worried that the odd-duck Ralph will never meet a girl, Rachel suddenly finds herself presented with the perfect solution. Petra is conveniently in the Brinkley home when Ralph visits. Wedding bells soon follow.
Petra and Ralph have two sons, Kit and Barney, who are often cared for, with great attention and love, by their grandparents. Petra, an orphan, has no frame of reference for the control, in the guise of “help,” being lavished upon her by Ralph’s parents. “Where,” Petra asks her sons during Charlotte’s and Luke’s wedding, “would we be without your granny and gramps?” A fulltime wife and mother, Petra seems happy to take care of Ralph and her boys. But when Ralph’s business fails and he is forced to take a job in London, working with his brother Edward, no less, Petra rebels. She loves living near the sea and refuses to move into the city, becoming particularly upset when Rachel, in perfect form, begins to email Ralph listings of homes.
Sigrid left behind her family in Sweden to settle with Edward in London. She has had her run-ins with Rachel, notably hiding from her mother-in-law a bout of post partum depression after giving birth to her daughter, Mariella. Rachel still harbors resentment that she wasn’t permitted to see her granddaughter during those early days because Sigrid took the baby to Sweden. Rather than appear weak, however, Sigrid swears Edward to secrecy about what really happened. Edward, of course, isn’t happy about lying to his parents, but honors his wife’s wishes.
The three sons may have their own wives and families, but crises in the Brinkley household keep pulling them back together. To escape, Sigrid takes Mariella and retreats to Sweden, entertaining the thought of moving back. What she receives instead is a big wake-up call. Sigrid’s mother, a doctor, makes it clear that times have changed. “If you come back to Sweden now, I just couldn’t dump all my patients and become a fulltime mother and grandmother,” she tells Sigrid. “I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to. It’s too late for that now and you should realize it.”
In the end, Sigrid absorbs the wise words from her own mother and turns out to be the healing factor in the Brinkley family. “Rachel brought up good men for us,” she tells Charlotte. “She did that, you know.”
Rachel, too, understands that she cannot turn back the clock. She may not have all her children and their families in her home all the time, but she will forever have them in her heart. And that’s good enough.
Buy on Amazon Joanna Trollope’s Daughters-in-Law.