Friday, 26 October 2007

Second Honeymoon and Hester's Story


Second Honeymoon by Joanna Trollope: I feel that Trollope’s books are becoming less memorable. My favourite of her early books, The Choir, was insightful, witty and original, set in the claustrophobia of a cathedral close with pleasing echoes, I thought, of her more famous ancestor and Barchester Towers. Since then her focus on the family has become narrower, the outside world seems to impinge less, and there are times when the pain endured by her characters can seem simply self-indulgent. Second Honeymoon is about the empty next syndrome, an affliction I can recall quite readily, but there were occasions when I wanted to tell Edie, the mother of the story, to pull herself together. Useless, of course, and several of her family tell her exactly that, but it takes time and distraction to effect a cure. My husband dragged me off to the dog rescue kennels two months after the younger son left, whereas Edie returns to acting, “mothers” a surrogate son, battles with her husband as all her children drift back to seek the comforts of home and, eventually, recovers.

This book holds the attention, the story is well and straightforwardly told -- Trollope knows her stuff. But although I’d expect to find it easy to empathise with the people she writes, since she concentrates on older women now, I miss the freshness and originality of the earlier works.

Hester’s Story by Adele Geras was altogether a different matter. Geras is a consummate storyteller and you are instantly caught up in the story. One of the joys reading her books is the child characters: here, I loved the recalcitrant young Hester, trapped in a family she regards as inimical, and later the sulky Alison, daughter of the elegant but ageing Claudia. Alison was in fact my favourite, the person whose story I was delighted to pick up every time the focus returned to her.

The story of young Hester, and her struggles and success as a ballerina, runs in parallel to the events of the present day, where she is organising the tenth Wychwood Festival at her home; a new ballet is to be performed and choreographer and dancers arrive to prepare. The day they arrive, the now-elderly Hester learns of the death of the great love of her life, an event which, although “offstage”, has repercussions for not only Hester and her household, but the whole company. Alison, who has reluctantly accompanied her mother, initially observes resentfully from the sidelines, but gradually finds herself welcomed by the dancers and, more importantly, by the Wychwood household. Hester and her housekeeper, Ruby, meanwhile, struggle to cope with the news of Adam’s death, and the memories and grief it evokes. Christmas, too, brings memories to be faced.

Geras has a remarkable capacity to create a slightly genteel and secure world, then pitching in a domestic disaster and letting her characters play it out. Jane Austen is sometimes criticised for the narrowness of her focus, but she created a fine tradition of English writing, which affords much pleasure. It’s a genre which could be collectively subtitled “All Well That Ends Well” (better, I think, than “domestic comedy”, a term debased by its association with television), and provides a necessary restorative in a world where the News is frequently too ghastly to contemplate. Geras, and Trollope at her best, offer excellent fare for these occasions.

6 comments:

  1. I'm not alone in my view of more recent Trollopes, it seems! I still have all her early works, but the latest one or two I've read have gone straight to the charity shop.
    Adele Geras, on the other hand, is super! I've got Hester's Story sitting waiting to be picked up, so I was interested to read what you have to say about it.
    Many thanks!

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  2. You make Hester's Story sound so goo, but that cover makes me shiver. I think I should read this one in the summer.

    I see you read Latitudes of Melt for the Canadian Challenge. Did you enjoy it? I'm barely into it, but I'm liking it so far.

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  3. Karen, I'm glad you agree about Trollope. Hope you enjoy Hester's story.

    Booklogged, I don't think there's too much snow - I think it would make a good Christmas read.

    I'm just going to start writing my post about Latitudes of Melt. I loved it.

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  4. I'm pleased to see you enjoyed Hester's Story. Like Karen, I also have it in my TBR pile, just waiting for the perfect moment when I need a cozy read.

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  5. I'll look forward to reading your comments on it, Tara!

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  6. Those were both wonderful reviews. You really brought me into both stories.

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