There is a delicate balance required to being a mother-in-law and to being a daughter-in-law too. I am lucky enough to have a beloved daughter-in-law who has accepted our family with all of its faults and idiosyncracies. I have also been lucky enough to have had wonderful parents-in-law who embraced me unreservedly into their fold. In spite of this there are bound to be ups and downs along the way but over the years we have all found an equilibrium at worst and an increasing closeness at best. But it never does any harm to be prompted into questioning the way you do things, the way you behave with people. On holiday in Lanzarote last week, whilst lying under clear blue skies and surrounded by exotic flowers, I was nudged into re-examining my dual roles, all thanks to this book.
I have read most of Joanna Trollope's novels and always enjoyed them. There is a comforting anticipation when picking up a book by an author you have read before but also, in my case, a frisson of anxiety. Will I like this story as much? Will I be disappointed? Well I wasn't disappointed and for me this is one of her best, but I also got much more than expected. Daughters-in-Law is a book of layers. At its most elementary it is a story about relationships, about what happens when your children have grown and flown and adapting to the changes which that entails. But it is also about so much more than that. It's about seeing each others' point of view, of letting go; for Rachel, the main character, it is about the difficult and painful journey of re-discovering herself and finding a new purpose, something I think many parents will understand; it is about the necessary adjustments which ensure the family, any family, doesn't just survive but thrives.
I didn't just enjoy the story and the accomplished writing. This book has a well defined structure and as a writer I have admired that and taken inspiration from it. Every character has a depth and strength which only comes from a detailed back-story. Only a few weeks ago at our writing group we were talking about back-story. I'm a huge believer in this. I have learned the hard way that if I have problems with my plot it is because I don't know my characters well enough. Plot and character are, for me, inter-dependent. My character should respond to events within the plot in a believable way and the plot should develop in a way which challenges that character so that he/she can shine.
I was going to do this anyway but this book has produced quite a nice lead-in so next week I'll write a little about the questions I ask myself when building up a back-story. But, in the meantime I'd advise anyone who is a mother-in-law or a daughter-in-law, or about to become one, to pick up Joanna's book. You'll gain so much more than just a good story.
As always thank-you for reading. Have a good week.