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A captivating new novel from the master of domestic drama.
As the youngest of their three sons marries and Anthony and Rachel Brinkley welcome their third daughter-in-law to the family, no one quite realizes the profound shift about to take place. For their different reasons, the two previous daughters-in-law hadn't been able to resist Rachel's maternal clout and Anthony's gentle charms, and had settled into Brinkley family life without rocking the boat. But Charlotte — very young, very beautiful and semi-spoiled — has no intention of sharing power with her mother-in-law, and sets out to vanquish the matriarch. Soon Rachel's sons begin to treasonously think of their own houses as home, and of their mother's house as simply the place where their parents live — a necessary shift of loyalties that sets off fireworks in their mother's brain, breaks their father's heart and causes unexpected waves in their own marriages.
A lovely, candid and hugely perceptive exploration of what happens inside every family when one generation, with its ways and habits, has to make way for the next — and everyone needs to learn what family love means all over again.
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JOANNA TROLLOPE is the author of a number of historical and contemporary novels including The Choir, A Village Affair, A Passionate Man, The Rector's Wife, The Men and the Girls and A Spanish Lover.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From the front pew, Anthony had an uninterrupted view of the back of the girl who was about to become his third daughter-in-law. The church had a wide aisle, and a broad carpeted space below the shallow chancel steps, where the four little bridesmaids had plopped themselves down in the pink silk nests of their skirts, during the address, so that there was a clear line of sight between Anthony and the bridal pair.
The bride, tightly swathed in ivory satin, seemed to Anthony to have the seductively imprisoned air of a landlocked mermaid. Her dress fitted closely – very closely – from below her shoulders to her knees and then fanned out into soft folds, and a fluid little train, which spilled carelessly down the chancel steps behind her. Anthony’s gaze travelled slowly from the crown of her pale cropped head, veiled in gauze and scattered with flowers, down to her invisible feet, and then back up again to rest on the unquestionably satisfactory curves of her waist and hips. She has, Anthony thought, a gorgeous figure, even if it is improper for her almost fatherin- law to think such a thing. Gorgeous.
He swallowed, and transferred his gaze sternly to his son. Luke, exuding that raw and possessive male pride that gives wedding days such an edge, was half turned towards his bride. There had been a touching moment five minutes before, when Charlotte’s widowed mother had reached up to fold her daughter’s veil back from her face and the two had regarded each other for several seconds with an intensity of understanding that excluded everyone else around them. Anthony had glanced down at Rachel beside him and wondered, as he often had in the decades they had been together, whether her composure hid some instinctive yearning she would never give voice to, and how her primitive and unavoidable reaction to yielding a third son to another woman would manifest itself in the coming months and years, escaping like puffs of hot steam through cracks in the earth’s crust.
‘OK?’ he said softly.
Rachel took no notice. He couldn’t even tell if she was actually looking at Charlotte, or whether it was Luke she was concentrating on, admiring the breadth of his shoulders and the clearness of his skin and asking herself, at some deep level, if Charlotte really, really knew what an extravagantly fortunate girl she was. Instead of a conventional hat, Rachel had pinned a small explosion of green feathers to her hair, very much on one side, and the trembling of the feathers, like dragonflies on wires, seemed to Anthony the only indication that Rachel’s inner self was not as unruffled as her outer one. Well, he thought, unable to gain her complicity, if she is absorbed in Luke, I will return to contemplating Charlotte’s bottom. I won’t be alone. Every man in the church who can see it will be doing the same. It is sheer prissiness to pretend otherwise.
The priest, a jovial man wearing a stole patterned with aggressive modern embroidery, was delivering a little homily based on a line from Robert Browning which was printed inside the service sheet.
Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be.
This poem, he was saying, was not actually about marriage. It was about the reward experience can be for the loss of youth. It was a tribute to a Sephardic Jewish scholar of the twelfth century, but all the same it was relevant, it celebrated joy, it commanded us to call the glory from the grey, it urged trust in God. The priest spread his wide, white-sleeved arms and beamed upon Charlotte and Luke and Charlotte’s mother in her lace dress and coat, and all the congregation. Anthony removed his gaze from what was about to belong to his youngest son, and looked up at the roof. It had been heavily restored, the beams varnished, the ceiling plaster between them brilliantly whitened. Anthony sighed. How lovely it would have been if Luke could have been married, as his elder brother Ralph had been, in the church at home, and not in this cosily domesticated bit of Buckinghamshire with no marshes, no wading birds or reed beds or vast, cloud-piled skies. How lovely it would be if they were all in Suffolk, now.
The church at home would, of course, have been perfect. Anthony had no orthodox faith, but he liked the look and feel of churches, the dignities and absurdities of ritual, the shy belonging of English Anglican congregations. He had known his own village church all his life; it was as old as the rabbi in Browning’s poem, even if no longer quite in its original form, and it was wide and light and welcoming, with clear-glass windows and a marvellous small modern bronze sculpture of Noah releasing the dove, to commemorate the first performance there of Benjamin Britten’s church opera, Noye’s Fludde. That had been in 1958, when Anthony was eleven. He had heard all the church operas there, in the far-off days before the Suffolk coast had become a place of musical pilgrimage, sitting through them dressed in his school greyflannel shorts and a tie, as a mark of respect to the music and to the composer. It was where he had first heard ‘Curlew River’, which remained his favourite, long before he had dared to put drawing at the heart of his life, long before birds became a passion. It was the building where he had first become aware of the profound importance of creativity, and thus it was natural that he should want his sons to go through the great rites of life’s passage there too. Wasn’t it?
They had all been christened there, Edward and Ralph and Luke. Anthony might have preferred some simple humanist naming ceremony, but Rachel had wanted them christened in the church, baptized from the ancient and charming font, and she had wanted it quite forcefully.
‘They don’t have to stay Christian,’ she’d said to Anthony over her shoulder, as always occupied with something, ‘but at least they have the option. It’s what you had, after all. Why shouldn’t they have what you had?’
The christenings had been lovely, of course, and moving, and Anthony’s sense of profound association with the church building had grown deeper with each one. In fact, so intense was his assumption that that was where the boys would marry – when, if, they married – that he was startled when his eldest, Edward, appeared with an elegant and determined young Swede, and announced that they were to be married, and, naturally, from her home, not his.
His fiancée, a laboratory researcher into the analysis of materials for museums and galleries, had been well briefed. She drew Anthony aside, and fixed her astonishing light-blue gaze on him.
‘You needn’t worry,’ Sigrid said in her perfect English, ‘it will be a humanist ceremony. You will feel quite at home.’ The wedding of Edward and Sigrid had taken place at her parents’ summer house, on some little low, anonymous island in the archipelago outside Stockholm, and they had eaten crayfish afterwards, wearing huge paper bibs, mountains and mountains of crayfish, and aquavit had flowed like a fatal river, and it never got dark. Anthony remembered stumbling about along the pebbly shore in the strange, glimmering night-time light, looking for Rachel, and being pursued by a rapacious platinum blonde in rimless spectacles, and deck shoes.
The morning after the wedding Sigrid had appeared, packet-fresh in white and grey, with her smooth hair in a ponytail, and taken Ed away in a boat, not to return. Anthony and Rachel were left marooned among Sigrid’s family and friends under a cloudless sky and entirely surrounded by water. They’d held hands, Anthony recalled, on the flight home, and Rachel had said, looking away from him out of the aeroplane window, ‘Some situations are just too foreign to react to, aren’t they?’
And a bit later when Anthony said, ‘Do you think they are actually married?’ she’d stared right at him and said, ‘I have no idea.’
Well, that was over eleven years ago now, almost twelve. And there, on the carpet below the chancel steps, sat Mariella, Edward and Sigrid’s eight-year-old daughter. She was sitting very still, and upright, her ballet-slippered feet tucked under her pink skirts, her hair held off her face by an Alice band of rosebuds. Anthony tried to catch her eye. His only granddaughter. His grave, self-possessed granddaughter. Who spoke English and Swedish and played the cello. By the merest movement of her head, Mariella indicated that she was aware of him, but she wouldn’t look his way. Her job that day, her mother had said, was to set a good example to the other little bridesmaids, all Charlotte’s nieces, and Mariella’s life was largely dedicated to securing her mother’s good opinion. She knew she had her grandfather’s, whatever she did, as a matter of course.
‘Concentrate,’ Rachel, beside him, hissed suddenly.
He snapped to attention.
‘I’m delighted to announce,’ the priest said, removing his stole that he’d wrapped around Luke and Charlotte’s linked, newly ringed hands, ‘that Luke and Charlotte are now husband and wife!’
Luke leaned to kiss his wife on the cheek, and she put her arms around his neck, and then he flung his own arms around her and kissed her with fervour, and the church erupted into applause. Mariella got to her feet and shook out her skirts, glancing at her mother for the next cue.
‘In pairs,’ Anthony saw Sigrid mouth to the little girls.
‘Two by two.’
Charlotte was laughing. Luke was laughing. Some of Luke’s friends, further down the church, were whooping. Anthony ...
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Book Description Random House Canada, 2011. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P11030735749X
Book Description Hardcover. Condition: New. NEW. Seller Inventory # OTTAWA 23
Book Description Random House Canada, 2011. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M030735749X