Author: Joanna Trollope
Doubleday RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Finding the right balance in life is difficult at the best of times, whether you have children (or grandchildren), work full-time or part-time, are in a relationship, or you have a time-consuming hobby (like book reveiewing). Best-selling author Joanna Trollope examines the issue of finding balance in her latest novel, Balancing Act, highlighting a number of relationships where this issue is suddenly a priority. As an issue, it’s right up there with what people are experiencing everyday; as a novel, it didn’t really work for me the way I had hoped.
The story starts with Susie Moran’s three daughters discussing her plans to buy a house in the country. I would have thought this was her business, but since the daughters (and at least one of their partners) is involved in the business, apparently it’s their business too. Susie built the now highly-profitable business from the ground up – it produces beautifully designed, usable objects, like fine china, and more. She’s proud of all she’s achieved – and why wouldn’t she be? She’s made a name for herself in a man’s world. But things have changed since the business was founded, and Susie’s daughters want to move with the times, rather than get left behind. They have lots of ideas – good ideas, profitable ideas – but Susie’s not keen to delegate or let them have too much say. So, we have an interesting dynamic here – a woman who wants to be in control of her “baby”, and her family, who think the business needs to be taken in new directions. They want a more balanced management. If Susie wants to spend a huge amount of money – their inheritance – should they have some say?
That’s just part of the picture. Susie’s musician husband has always taken a back seat. He looked after the girls when they were young, but now he’s left wondering who he is. He’s wondering where he fits into Susie’s life … he’s just there. When Susie fails to notice, he takes drastic steps. And then, there’s Susie’s long-lost father, an ageing hippy who has no one else to turn to in his twilight years. He wants to be part of Susie’s life, too. Suddenly, Susie has to deal with the demands of all these other people, and try to balance their needs with her own needs. Will her business win at the expense of her marriage and family?
Put like this, it sounds interesting, albeit complicated. That’s life, though – full of complications. The trouble is, it takes a long time to get to the point … and quite a while before any of the characters seem particularly likeable. The opening chapters alienated me from the start because two of Susie’s daughters seemed whiny and greedy, which is harsh, but as I read I kept wondering why they felt they had to interfere with their mother’s life. By the time I “met” Susie, she didn’t seem that much better – a bit “me, me, me”. If I wasn’t such a fan of Trollope’s work I might have put the book down, but I persevered and came to understand the characters and their motivations a bit better. I even liked the daughters more, particularly Grace, who was a bit railroaded by her sisters and boyfriend before standing up to them. I didn’t really warm to Susie though. The shining stars in this novel were really Jasper, Susie’s husband, Maisie (Ashley’s precocious daughter who added some comic relief) and Neil (a manager at the factory); I really felt for Jasper as he contemplated his life and his self – that’s the part that I will take with me from this book.
It was all a bit dramatic, a bit like a corporate soap opera, and I can’t say I loved this book. I do think the second half was better and gave much-needed context to the story – it’s here where the balancing act theme really comes together. I’m keen to hear what others think.
To read an extract, click here.
Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. My copy was courtesy of Random House Australia.
Bookish treat: I ate an apple followed by chocolate while I read this. That’s balance!