Book Review of “Brother & Sister” by Joanna Trollope.
David and Nathalie and are the children of Lynne and Ralph. You wouldn’t find a closer brother and sister anywhere – except that they’re not really siblings. This is because Lynne and Ralph adopted them. This fact was never a secret, and all their lives both David and Nathalie believed that it made no difference to them. They’ve grown up healthy, loved and become well-adjusted adults and are both in good relationships – happily married and with children of their own. But when Nathalie is interviewed about how being adopted effected her life, although initially she denies that it made any difference to her, she suddenly discovers a need to find her birth parents, and insists that David do the same. This takes them down a road that neither of them were ever prepared to travel, and yet, are both, inexplicably drawn towards. This is the story of “Brother and Sister” by Joanna Trollope.
From that plot summary, you can easily see that this book centers on difficult relationships, which is a topic Joanna Trollope is no stranger to. All of her novels seem to revolve around families or couples that have one type of problem or another. As such, she seems to have an excellent handle on these types of situations and finds a way to portray them in a very natural fashion. What I mean by that is she brings up emotions and reactions that are totally in line with human nature, and puts her characters through true psychological workouts. What’s more, she does this with such simplicity of plot that we can easily be fooled into believing that she is recounting a true story. This is because Trollope has the innate ability to write truly believable characters, and use these characters to drive her story (which, if you’ve read any other book reviews of mine, you’ll know that I prefer character-driven to plot-driven novels). What’s more, Trollope knows how to make her characters develop and grow within her stories – something that is essential for a good climax and conclusion. Plus, although Trollope knows how to make her characters act like we would expect them to act if they were real persons, she also knows how to keep them from being predictable as well – which is yet another fine line she travels.
In this story, Trollope takes Nathalie as her main protagonist, and then brings her brother David in to act as a sort of back-up protagonist. Their interaction and closeness makes the reader wonder if they might have become lovers, had these two not grown up as brother and sister. This becomes more evident as we see some resentment coming from their respective spouses because of the increased contact between David and Nathalie over the possibility of meeting their birth parents. This is a very normal reaction of any husband or wife sees their spouse suddenly having far more contact with someone they are very close to already. Remember that despite their sibling status, David and Nathalie aren’t actually biologically brother and sister, the knowledge of which exasperates those spousal feelings.
We also see two people who, despite their closeness, are highly different personalities, and almost come to odds with each other due to their strong individuality. Trollope shows this in the resistance that David shows in wanting to contact his birth parents, after Nathalie has made the decision that they both should do it. Furthermore, we see that while we expect both David and Nathalie to have some kind of change in their relationship between themselves, they also react differently towards their own families – but each in their own way. Trollope also includes some background into their childhoods by allowing their adoptive parents into the mix, who express both their own feelings towards this investigation, as well as their thoughts regarding how they saw these two as children.
What I found particularly interesting with this book was that there is no human or physical antagonist here. In fact, Trollope seems instead, to use the situation as an antagonist – it is the idea of being able to find ones birth parents that becomes the catalyst for all the conflict and resolution in this book. While personal growth and internal conflict as antagonist isn’t completely innovative for a novel, it is probably the type of antagonist that is most difficult to portray. However, Trollope has such an excellent understanding of human nature and behavior that she shines using this form. Moreover, she doesn’t use any tricks like diaries or letters to help the reader understand what is in the characters heads, nor does she depend on long tirades into their internal thoughts or speeches to their audience. Instead, she uses pure dialogue and action to show us what these two are going through. Take note that I said “show” and not “tell” – and yes, Trollope is actually showing us what is going on, not telling us. That is usually the first rule of writing fiction – “show, don’t tell” – and Trollope is a master at this.
I’m sorry that this review doesn’t make this novel sound as interesting as I found it to be, but I’m not sure how to make it sound better. What Joanna Trollope gives us is a parallel study in human nature, but she does so with such simple artistry that you’ll find yourself compelled to read this straight through. Her characters are vivid and alive, while acting as we would totally expect them to act, while still surprising the reader with how they go about dealing with their conflicts and problems. Her magic here is in making us believe that these people are so real, we could pick them out of a crowd. In sum, Trollope has given us yet another marvelous piece of fiction that I wholeheartedly recommend and will give it a full five stars out of five.
“Brother & Sister” by Joanna Trollope is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart eBooks and audiobooks (Kobo), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you. (This is a revised review from one previously published on Dooyoo under my username TheChocolateLady.)