Frances at last decides to step out of her sister's shadow and become her own person. She starts a travel business, which becomes a great success, and she begins an unconventional love affair with a married Spaniard. Meanwhile, Lizzie and Richard suffer serious financial setbacks that threaten their comfortable lifestyle. Lizzie, who has always been self-satisfied and even-tempered, cannot help but be jealous and resentful of her twin's financial and emotional independence.
Joanna Trollope is a contemporary Jane Austen. With a keen eye, she examines how time, economic circumstances, and romantic entanglements can upset the delicate balance of a relationship. She also explores the theme of whether we should try to please our families or ourselves. Trollope shows how making life-altering decisions can involve some serious tradeoffs. As one character in the book aptly states, "There is no change without sacrifice."
The author's writing flows naturally and her language is lyrical and beautifully descriptive. The characters are vividly portrayed and the dialogue is humorous, poignant, and insightful. I highly recommend "A Spanish Lover" for its rich detail and its penetrating look at contemporary family life.
William and Barbara, staunch, middle-class, and proper, astonish themselves when they conceive twins. Barbara is not at all pleased, somehow embarrassed by this quite excessive show of pregnancy and birth. William, however, is enchanted. Imagine, he thinks, a conservative schoolteacher, nothing to recommend himself, really, and he has begotten twins! It makes him feel very important, and that's a good thing, because when Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Frances finally make their appearance, Barbara is quite disgusted and repelled by the mere thought of any further mothering.
William becomes a house-husband of sorts, and Barbara, in her no-nonsense way, sees to her daughters' non-emotional needs. It works well until the girls are 10 years old, at which time comfortable, boring, predictable Barbara takes off for Marrakesh on a hippie trek (a truly hilarious plot twist). She is gone for some time, during which William begins a discreet love affair with the local artist, Juliet. Nevertheless, when Barbara comes back (not having succeeded in becoming a hippie or even a successful feminist, another hobby horse of hers), William takes her back as a natural course of events. He also keeps Juliet on the side; Barbara knows about this, and things continue, changed, but not really.
Fast forward 25 years. Lizzie, having had a fling at artsy life herself, is married to a fellow student, Rob, and the two have created a very successful art/antiques/crafts boutique. They live in a large, sprawling house, and have four children. Lizzie works away at the huge mouthful of life she has endeavored to swallow--boutique, children, house, dutiful daughter, loving wife, loyal twin. As much as she thinks of herself as more successful at life than Barbara, she is more like her mother (albeit more giving) than she would ever want to be.
It is only Frances, the gadfly, the unpredictable, the "different," who seems to have a "real" life. She has remained unmarried, had a series of unsuccessful love affairs, and runs a highly successful travel agency. The rest of the family is constantly worried about her...almost like she must fit into the mold in order to be happy. She seems quite happy enough--especially when she meets her Spanish lover (he of the book's title) halfway into the book. A torrid, gorgeous, passionate, beautiful, storybook affair ensues, much to the consternation of everybody else, who are waiting for the shoe to drop. Lizzie is worried and jealous--the business has begun to fail, and she and husband Rob are beset with money worries. Barbara, who knows nothing of passion (and doesn't approve of it), is waiting for Frances to be devastated. But Frances takes her own way, does her own thing, and defies her entire family and upbringing. I don't want to be a spoiler and say exactly what she does, but it alters her life, and the life of her lover and her family, forever. Has Frances, then, become the one person to break through the chains and truly become her own woman? That's for the reader to decide. This reader, however, says no. Read "A Spanish Lover" and find out. It's one of Trollope's classics.