Dan is husband to Alexa, father to twin girls, Flora and Tassy, stepfather to Isabel, son, grandson, son in law, friend and soldier. On return from a six month deployment in Afghanistan Dan cannot seem to find what he is anymore. Being a soldier is the easiest for him than returning to family life, the army life gives him more structure, purpose and plenty of knowns. Families bring plenty of unknowns and no orders on how to deal with them.
Alexa adores her husband and knew exactly what she was getting into upon marriage to Dan and marriage in effect to the army. Constant moving, no property that actually you can call your own, making new friends. Leaving old ones behind as you go to the next posting. Changing schools for the children, in fact it is an upheaval, but with Dan away she is the one to make it work, to fix everything; when he is back she wants to share that responsibility and become Alexa Riley and not Mrs Major Riley.
Dan does not understand, nobody is talking, whilst all around them lives are fracturing in their own way. Isabel is determined to make her point about boarding school, she does not want to be there no one asked her and the only reason she is, is because of the Army, because of Dan. Alexa has a chance of a job, to become herself for a few hours a day, away from the children but she knows she cannot take it, because of the Army, because of Dan.
And so Dan is the catalyst of this story which taps into a conscious of many readers who have experience of not just the Army but the other armed forces as well. I am a passive observer of such in my working life and can see the correlations that Joanna Trollope has covered. Times are changing and for the better.
It is a story about finding that happy balance, not just for those left at home those coming back as well. Trollope taps into something, and shows us inside an institution warts and all. Criticism is abound because it focuses on the more ‘officer’ class soldiers and not the average ‘squaddie’ in the story but actually it reflects everyone’s part. Talking to the Brigadier and his wife, you sense that both Dan and Alexa feel inferior. The book goes a long way to show the class structure, the snobbery, the them and us that makes up part of all these institutions.
A book, which traverses along at a reasonable pace, there was a sense of undercurrent all the way through as the readers are watching something disintegrate. It would not if there was the right time to tell of what has happened at home as well as on the front line. And the right support to deal with wives and girlfriends wanting to not be an extension of their husbands but actually someone to be recognised in their own right. They married the man not the Army, is Trollope’s theme throughout.
It is apparent that research and thought has gone into this book (why shouldn’t it?) because it deals with those who come back from Afghanistan not the people they went with. The scenes where they are dealing with drugs within the regiment, the hard drinking,marriages breaking up, the rehabilitation of those who have lost limbs and the remembrance of those who did not make it back is handled in my opinion well without being too graphic or rose coloured in view. The references to previous conflicts through Dan’s father and grandfather both ex Army was a good tool for reflecting the change that has happened on how returning to domestic and home life can be dealt with and has been. What the outside world sees is very different from the reality of living with that reunion. Trollope handles it efficiently and effectively, candidly and with empathy without patronising those it is happening to now in the here and now.
Having read only one Joanna Trollope novel many moons ago, I was thrilled to read this book as it has all the composite parts of being an excellent book in typical Trollope style. It would also make a good adaptation for television provided its handled with as much care as Trollope has done with the plot and the characters.
An interesting and thought provoking read, one which I will remember for a long time.
Thank you to Transworld for giving me a copy of the book in return for a review.
I must go and find some other Joanna Trollope from her back catalogue and remind myself of some of her other great stories that she has written. I remember The Choir more than A Village Affair and I think I probably saw them first on television when I was younger and then ventured into the books because of that. Looking back on my younger reading days, I am not sure if it was these that got me into reading and loving books set in ‘institutions’, villages etc. Or whether it was something else? I endeavour to give it some thought.