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Witty, intelligent, and insightful, "The Other Family "is a story of modern family life from one of our most beloved authors of domestic fiction.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 29.
- Review Date: 2010-02-08
- Reviewer: Staff
An unexpected line in a will leads to complications and new beginnings in Trollope’s eminently readable latest (after Friday Nights). The novel opens outside London with the sudden death of Richie Rossiter, a once-popular pianist whose star has been on the wane for some time. Chrissie, Richie’s partner for the past 23 years, is shocked to learn that Richie has left his piano and his early musical estate to his “other family”—Margaret, the wife he never divorced, and their son, Scott, now an aimless bachelor. Soon after, Chrissie’s youngest daughter, Amy, becomes fascinated with her father’s original family and his humble roots, leading to a tentative friendship with her half-brother that may result in new opportunities for both of Richie’s families. At times, the grieving characters—particularly Chrissie—seem excessively distraught about trivial matters, but Trollope’s keen ear for dialogue and her pointed development of secondary characters keep the novel on the safe side of overwrought, while the hopeful if too tidy conclusion highlights the sometimes surprising possibilities that can emerge in the wake of grief. (Apr.)
Trollope’s latest packs a punch
When Richie Rossiter, an acclaimed songwriter and pianist adored by his avid—if aging—public, dies suddenly in London, he leaves behind not one, but two grieving families. Chrissie, 20 years his junior, whom he never married, bore him three daughters: 20-somethings Tamsin and Dilly, and Amy, 18. Then there’s Margaret, the faithful wife he abandoned 23 years earlier up north in Newcastle when their son Scott was just a teenager.
The stage is thus set for Trollope’s latest spot-on, engaging novel of family dynamics spanning generations. Kept separate both physically and emotionally by Richie for all those years, the two families are forced by his death to relate, at least on some minimal level.
Margaret had a wretched upbringing; her marriage to Richie, a friend since childhood, was the highlight of her life. She managed his concerts and gigs, always the faithful helpmate. Scott was devastated when his father left, and he is stunned to see Chrissie and the three girls at the funeral.
But then Trollope deftly injects a twist into what might have been an overworked “wife replaced by a younger woman” plot—the will. For Richie has left his beloved Steinway and the copyrights to all his compositions to Scott and Margaret; the London house (a bit outdated) and savings (much depleted) to Chrissie. Not to mention the inheritance tax she’s stuck with since she and Richie were never legally married.
Trollope is known for her well-drawn characters, offering empathetic glimpses into the lives of the English middle class—and her latest is a perfect example. Each of Richie’s daughters reacts in her own way both to his death and to their altered circumstances. Chrissie herself is alternately embarrassed and vengeful over the mess she has inherited. Scott begins to relish the experience of morphing from an only child to a big brother to three women, and Margaret discovers hidden assets she forgot she possessed, along with a desire to redo her former, dull self.
The Other Family will engage readers on many levels—its truths universal, and even its tragic moments delivered with Trollope’s trademark underlying humor.
Deborah Donovan writes from La Veta, Colorado.