Edie is an actress, but she’s put most of her career on hold to raise her three children Matthew, Rosa and Ben. But now the last of her children has moved out and that nest seems suddenly very, very empty. This doesn’t seem to bother her husband Russell however, as he’s thrilled that he’ll finally have Edie to himself. Well, as much to him as her career will allow, that is. Of course, Edie’s sister Vivian isn’t going to help much, since she’s been pretty clingy since her divorce from Max. This is the way Joanna Trollope’s novel “Second Honeymoon” opens.
I’ve always enjoyed Trollope’s novels, mostly because she makes you see the people she’s writing about. Her ability to get into different people’s heads, and understand them and their situations is uncanny, and she always seems to bring her characters to life for her readers. However, with this novel, I’m afraid that she’s bitten off a touch more than she can chew. While Edie is the focal point character of this story, there is a larger than usual cast of characters whose influence on Edie is such that they aren’t as minor as they could have been. This isn’t to say that Trollope only concentrates on one main character in her books, since she always has lots of minor characters as well. But with “Second Honeymoon” I feel she’s spread herself a little thin since most of the minor characters here get more highlights than usual. With this, we end up not knowing Edie as well as we could, and I felt that this book suffered because of it.
And then there are the sub-plots. There’s Edie’s sister Vivian and her relationship with her ex-husband Max as he tries to re-enter Vivian’s life. This is an interesting sub-plot that provides a counter-point as well as parallel to Edie’s own changing family situations, especially considering that they’re as different as two sisters can possibly be. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? The problem here is that Joanna puts in about six more sub-plots, all of which are equally interesting. There’s Russell’s own re-assessing of his agency vs his attempts to have Edie all to himself. We also have Matthew’s relationship with is girlfriend Ruth. Let’s not forget Rosa’s financial and employment problems, coupled with her involvement with Edie’s young co-star in the play she’s just gotten into. And that brings us to Lazlo, the young actor Edie has taken under her wing. But Rosa also has her friend Kate who is a newlywed and just found out she’s pregnant. That Kate lives near the new posh apartment that Ruth just purchased which Matthew couldn’t afford to buy with her – thereby causing a rift between them, is yet another angle here. And finally, we have Ben and his moving out to live with Naomi at her mother’s house.
Is your head reeling yet? Well, to tell you the truth, it isn’t as complex as I’ve made it sound. Trollope’s saving grace is that she is able to juggle all these stories together and keep her readers from being confused. What’s more, she does all of this in less than 400 pages of text. But with that sort of brevity, we end up with a cast that we’ve only gotten a fleeting glimpse at. The type of psychological depth that usually accompanies Trollope’s works is sadly missing here. And, as I mentioned before, I believe she was a bit over-enthusiastic in tackling this large group, since she obviously has a great deal of affection for all of them. I’m wondering if she had down-played at least half of these sub-plots, and perhaps even deleted one (perhaps Kate and her situation could have been sidelined), she might have had more leeway to beef up the more interesting sub-plots, and made Edie more central to it all.
Still, there is something very comfortable in reading Joanna Trollope novels, and this one is no exception in that area. The language flows easily, without any flowery pretense, and we can depend on getting a plateful of honesty with every page. This makes reading her stories a pleasure rather than a chore, and this one was an easier read than most. Also, she typically never ties up all the loose ends to any absolute degree with everyone living happily ever after, but does offer enough conclusions or partial solutions that always make her stories very realistic. I consider this a real asset to Trollope’s talent, and despite my reservations about this particular novel, I’m still a fan of her writing, and am not ready to give up on her after this one snafu.
If you ask me about recommending this book, I’d have to say only maybe, but probably not. Devoted fans will still want to read anything that Trollope has to offer, and nothing I can say here will deter them. Still, I can’t give “Second Honeymoon” more than three stars and would tell those new to Joanna’s work that they’re better off reading something else of hers first. I’d recommend “A Village Affair”, “Marrying the Mistress”, “Other People’s Children”, “The Rector’s Wife” or “Brother and Sister”. Sorry, Joanna, but you didn’t charm me with this one, but I still love your stories.