Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"A Passionate Man," by Joanna Trollope

When I found out a couple of days before that I would be spending most of the day yesterday in a hospital waiting room while my husband was prepared for, had, and recovered from a medical procedure, I knew I would need the distraction of a book that was enjoyable but not too demanding. Otherwise I would just sit and stew with worry, and/or watch too much random bad television. I had recently picked up at a library sale Joanna Trollope’s “A Passionate Man” (Berkley, 1990), and on looking through my book pile, I decided this novel would be a suitable companion for my day at the hospital. (It turned out that I could wait in the hospital room rather than the waiting room.) Trollope, a descendant of Anthony Trollope, is one of the writers I mentioned in my 2/8/10 post about “middlebrow” literature. Over the years I have read several of her novels, and they have been reliably entertaining and quite well written. They are usually about middle-to-upper-middle-class characters in contemporary England, but somehow -- and I am sure this is purposeful -- they retain an aura of an earlier period in British life. The novels are clearly aimed at female readers, and contain just a tiny whiff of upscale romance novels. They are primarily about relationships, love, and families, and the main characters are generally women who are not-young-but-youngish-to-early-middle-aged. This novel, “A Passionate Man,” tells of Liza and Archie, a seemingly very happy couple in their late thirties, very much in love, living in a charming village, with three children, whose relationship is suddenly torn by emotional crises they undergo separately and together. Their marriage suddenly seems at risk. The problem with the book is that the crisis is too abrupt, with little build-up given, so it is not very believable. Other complications are thrown in: Archie’s relationship with his widowed father is so close that Liza feels left out; Archie can’t accept his father’s new marriage after all these years alone; one of the young couple’s children is very unhappy at boarding school; there is a local dust-up regarding a developer’s building houses on the field next to Archie’s and Liza’s house. There is a somewhat shocking development, which I won’t reveal here, but it seems too sudden and artificial a development as well. Somehow there just isn’t enough “there” there in this novel. But I am grateful to the book for helping to distract me from my worry yesterday, so I won’t complain too much about its shortcomings. Most important, my husband’s medical procedure went well, and he came home from the hospital today. That puts everything else in perspective.

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