The popular Trollope (Marrying the Mistress, 2000, etc.) again deftly profiles ordinary men and women learning to adapt as their lives are disrupted by change and loss.
Life on the Meredith family’s two farms has been pretty predictable. They’re not the most beautiful spreads in England, but they’ve offered solace to Robin, who runs Tideswell, and younger brother Joe, along with parents Harry and Dilys, who farm Dean’s Place. But this seeming serenity is, as usual, only superficial. When Caro, Robin’s American wife, dies from a brain tumor, the thin fabric of the Merediths’ lives disintegrates. Judy, adopted daughter of Caro and Robin, is angry with her father because she feels he mistreated her mother, seeming cool and indifferent. Robin has his own sorrows, as well as financial worries, and Joe, long depressed, feels that with Caro gone he can no longer escape his demons. The pace of events accelerates when Zoe, a photographer who shares a flat with Judy in London, comes down for a weekend, then moves in and becomes Robin’s lover. Soon he’s telling her about his loveless marriage, and she’s also befriending Dilys—a friendship that comforts the crusty matriarch when Joe commits suicide, Harry has an accident, and all learn that they may have to leave the farm. Robin has large debts too (farming is not cheap), and Trollope makes a quiet, heartfelt plea for those who love the land and till it. The Merediths must adapt if they’re to survive, Dilys ruefully concludes: change, together with loss and growth, is life. This would all be more compelling if Caro and Zoe didn’t both seem more like necessary plot catalysts than memorable characters; Caro’s influence on the Merediths never becomes clear, and Zoe is a very sketchy figure.
Still, despite its flaws: a refreshingly unsentimental story about people trying, not always successfully, to do what’s right.