I loved this inter-generational family drama. Trollope’s insights into the petty resentments, jealousy, and sibling rivalry that exist even in the most apparently well-adjusted families are devastatingly accurate. And the Beacham family is far from well-adjusted. Grandparents Gus and Monica have lived in Spain for 25 years, where Gus has cultivated a moderately-successful vineyard from scratch.
Monica loves Spain, but her husband is a domineering bully. When he has a stroke, meaning he can no longer run the vineyard alone, their three adult children – each raising their own families back in the UK – have to decide what to do with mum and dad.
It’s a classic scenario in which the personality of each family member is displayed in an unforgiving light. I’ll leave it to Richard to talk about the younger generation; but for me, the lynchpin of the book is grandma Monica. She’s made mistakes – putting her children into their hated boarding-schools – and they are now distant from her. But as a grandmother myself, I root for Monica. Life is long and complicated – everyone makes mistakes, and in a family, there is always a bond, if not always love.
I thought Mum & Dad was razor-sharp in its observations in what happens to a family when the tribal leaders – the grandparents – can no longer cope. The adult Beacham children, Sebastian, Katie, and Jake, all with their own families to raise, react in ways which highlight not only their own worst traits, but also the resentments they feel towards their parents and each other. Sebastian is a man dominated by his strong-willed wife, Anna. Anna has ensured their two sons have scant respect for their father.
Katie also has relationship problems and her busy and successful career has blinded her to her daughter’s unhappiness. Jake, the youngest, is a scoundrel, happy-go-lucky, his mum’s favourite, full of charm but also a bit of a wide boy on the make.
As Judy writes, the great achievement of this novel is Trollope’s wise perspective. Life is long, families are bound forever, their destinies intertwined. And even at their worst, families have a deep well of love to draw on – if only they can find it.
Oh, and I loved the sunny Spanish setting.