Review: Daughters-in-Law — Joanna Trollope

Read: 15
To Go: 85

Book List:
11. Behaving Badly — Isabel Wolff
12. The English Patient — Michael Ondaatje
13. Atonement — Ian McEwan
14. One Fifth Avenue — Candace Bushnell
15. Daughters-in-Law — Joanna Trollope

As Anthony and Rachel Brinkley welcome their third daughter-in-law into the family, no one realizes the profound shifts in relationships that are about to happen. Charlotte — young, gorgeous, and spoiled — has no intention of coming second to her mother-in-law in her new husband’s life, and sets out to make that very plain. Soon all three sons begin to see that their first loyalties can no longer lie in the house where they grew up, and Rachel, more than anyone, has to face a seismic change in the balance of family power.

I really didn’t expect to finish this so soon, especially since this month is going to be so busy (and going to suck so, so much), but Daughters-in-Law just captivated me. So here I am!

Anyway, I have a sort of funny story to share about this book. The night I started reading it I was actually at the ballet (I sound so snooty, my apologies!), and had just brought it with me to kill time before the show started, and during intermission. I ended up seated beside a woman and her son, and when she passed by me on her way back from a bathroom break at intermission, she stopped and said, “That’s a fabulous book.”

Only about twenty pages in, but still enjoying it, I said, “Yeah, I really like it so far.”

“It was terrifying, though,” she added. “As a mother-in-law.”

I know it seems like a weird thing to share, but I just thought it was so indicative about how many ways this story could be read. I could only find it in me to be sympathetic with the daughters-in-law, Sigrid, Petra, and Charlotte, the main character; an older woman saw eye-to-eye with Rachel, a character whom I found frustrating and utterly overbearing. Interesting.

Anyway, when you consider family dynamics as they relate to dating, I think the one that often comes to mind is fathers and daughters: fathers are notoriously protective of their daughters, and being the man who’s going to meet his girlfriend’s father is an unenviable position. Sometimes, I think, people forget about the complicated relationship that mothers have with their sons; Trollope really brought that to light and showed, with startling reality, how a daughter-in-law has the potential to change the balance of family power.

I really liked Trollope’s use of multiple perspectives to show just how many people were affected by Charlotte’s seizing of power. I couldn’t bring myself to empathize with Rachel, but I could see where she was coming from (feeling like she’d lost her usefulness), and I could pity her. I could understand Charlotte’s perspective, and Sigrid’s, and Petra’s, as they worked to have functional marriages under their mother-in-law’s overly watchful eye. And I could feel for Luke, Edward, and sometimes Ralph, as they were inevitably forced to choose between their mother and their respective wives.

All in all, a great book. Definitely worth a read. (Especially if you’re a daughter-in-law. Or a mother-in-law. You’ll probably understand.)

Next book: that is a relevant question. Whatever it is, I probably won’t be reading it for a while. I’m so busy I could cry.

– Kelsey

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