When Richie Rossiter, an acclaimed songwriter and pianist adored by his avid—if aging—public, dies suddenly in London, he leaves behind not one, but two grieving families. Chrissie, 20 years his junior, whom he never married, bore him three daughters: 20-somethings Tamsin and Dilly, and Amy, 18. Then there’s Margaret, the faithful wife he abandoned 23 years earlier up north in Newcastle when their son Scott was just a teenager.
The stage is thus set for Trollope’s latest spot-on, engaging novel of family dynamics spanning generations. Kept separate both physically and emotionally by Richie for all those years, the two families are forced by his death to relate, at least on some minimal level.
Margaret had a wretched upbringing; her marriage to Richie, a friend since childhood, was the highlight of her life. She managed his concerts and gigs, always the faithful helpmate. Scott was devastated when his father left, and he is stunned to see Chrissie and the three girls at the funeral.
But then Trollope deftly injects a twist into what might have been an overworked “wife replaced by a younger woman” plot—the will. For Richie has left his beloved Steinway and the copyrights to all his compositions to Scott and Margaret; the London house (a bit outdated) and savings (much depleted) to Chrissie. Not to mention the inheritance tax she’s stuck with since she and Richie were never legally married.
Trollope is known for her well-drawn characters, offering empathetic glimpses into the lives of the English middle class—and her latest is a perfect example. Each of Richie’s daughters reacts in her own way both to his death and to their altered circumstances. Chrissie herself is alternately embarrassed and vengeful over the mess she has inherited. Scott begins to relish the experience of morphing from an only child to a big brother to three women, and Margaret discovers hidden assets she forgot she possessed, along with a desire to redo her former, dull self.
The Other Family will engage readers on many levels—its truths universal, and even its tragic moments delivered with Trollope’s trademark underlying humor.
Deborah Donovan writes from La Veta, Colorado.