Fans of Joanna Trollope's cozy, plot-driven novels like Marrying the Mistress
and Other People's Children
might find Next of Kin
slightly forbidding. Set on a farm in the English Midlands, the book opens with a funeral. The deceased, Caro Meredith, is (or rather, was) a Californian, a lost soul who ended up on Tideswell Farm by chance, having married into the taciturn, proud Meredith clan. Her funeral finds her husband, Robin, depressed; her twentysomething daughter, Judy, furious at the world in general and at her father in particular; and her brother-in-law, Joe, hopelessly bereft. Meanwhile, Robin's father, Harry, looks on, thinking of his late daughter-in-law: "Strange woman. American. Never quite seemed able to involve herself with the farm and yet--Harry swallowed. He felt it might be an obscure and diverting comfort to mention to Robin that his new power harrow would cost over six thousand pounds, but thought he'd better not."
This gives some idea of the preoccupations and sensitivities of the Meredith mind. The farm comes first; everything else comes a distant second. Next of Kin traces how that rigid mindset is changed by a wholly unexpected agent: Judy's London roommate, Zoe. This disturbingly forthright character arrives for a weekend at Tideswell Farm bedecked in her signature purple hair, rows of silver earrings, and all-black boy's wardrobe. She declares that she likes farm life, and to Judy's horror, soon moves down from London to Tideswell, ultimately ending up in the paterfamilias's bed. As the Merediths find their old ways failing them, Zoe teaches the family how to live with her own odd mixture of honesty and lawlessness. Trollope's books usually move with a nice combination of introspection and action. Next of Kin, on the other hand, holds still--Zoe has to all but goad the Meredith family into the happy ending she has in mind. This stillness makes for a quietly and surprisingly satisfying read. --Claire Dederer
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From Publishers Weekly
Among bestselling British author Trollope's enviable skills are her ability to create characters with believable flaws, and to ponder plausible life situations in which the best possible outcome is merely pragmatic, rather than romantic, and tinged with rue as well as guarded hope. In her ninth novel (after Marrying the Mistress), the theme is the inevitability of change and the possibility of growth. The Meredith family, for generations farmers in the rural English midlands, are now beset by financial problems in a changing economy. The book opens with the funeral of Caro Meredith, a transplanted American who never adjusted to being a farm wife. Her husband, taciturn Robin, is less bereaved than relieved, since Caro stopped loving him long ago, but their adopted daughter, Judy, has always taken her mother's part and bitterly resents both her father and his dairy farm. Robin's parents live nearby, raising crops on their own acreage, and so does Robin's troubled brother, Joe, and his needy wife, Lindsay. Trollope does an excellent job of describing the dynamics of farm life, both the unremitting labor and the encroachment of modern techniques. As usual, she conveys the nuances of marriage, in which lack of communication can breed tragedy. After another family death and Robin's unexpected attraction to Judy's flaky London flatmate, Zoe, the novel becomes a crucible of change, realistically describing how brave people pull themselves together and move on. In addition to crafting an absorbing narrative, Trollope charms with her depiction of several young children, whose speech and behavior are captured with clarity and endearing fidelity. (July) Forecast: Trollope's devoted readers are rarely disappointed, and this new novel will add to her reputation for writing psychologically nuanced fiction that's commercially viable.
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