Next of Kin

Trollope, Joanna

Published by Viking Adult, 2001
ISBN 10: 0670899992 / ISBN 13: 9780670899999
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Synopsis: Joanna Trollope's style, her nuanced perception, and her sensitivity all have made her a bestselling favorite on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, in Next of Kin, she draws on what The New York Times Book Review praises as her ability "to capture far-flung perspectives with compassion" to portray a family grappling-together and individually-with the death of a loved one.

Caro Meredith, originally from California, led the life of an English farmer's wife for more than twenty years. Yet after her death, her grieving husband, Robin, wonders how well he really knew her. But Robin is not the only one left vulnerable; his brother, parents, and Judy, his daughter and Caro's step-daughter, are all thrown by the absence of the woman who had become a central figure in their lives. As they each struggle to cope with Caro's death, Judy's friend Zoe arrives from London and brings with her hope for a new beginning. All recognize that she is a catalyst for change.

Next of Kin is about outsiders and insiders, about travelers and settlers, about living on the land and living with yourself. It offers a perceptive, if unsettling, insight into the forces of change, resignation, and making your own luck. Above all, it is written with Trollope's superbly appealing blend of complexity and humanity.

Review: 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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Title: Next of Kin
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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