Doubleday, 352 pages
Joanna Trollope is one of my favourite writers, so I picked her most recent book to start off this reading blog. To some extent, all of her novels deal with vulnerable people caught in impossible predicaments, and the beauty of Trollope’s storytelling lies in how her characters find their way out.
In The Soldier’s Wife, Trollope’s sixteenth novel, Alexa Riley is stuck. Her daughter from a previous marriage is living miserably at boarding school, her three year old twins are a constant challenge, and she has been offered a wonderful job that she absolutely cannot take. She is married to Dan, an Army major, and being married to an army major really means being married to the Army. The Army dictates where they live, the Army dictates when they move, and the Army dictates that she may never build a career for herself because it makes her life too unstable. Furthermore, Dan has just returned from a six month tour of Afghanistan, but emotionally, has not yet come home. Alexa loves her husband, but the Army has trapped her into a lonely and unfulfilling life.
I absolutely loved this novel. Out of all Trollope’s other novels, this one shares the most in common with The Rector’s Wife, which looked at the unhappiness of being married to a man who is really married to the church. Although the storytelling is brilliant, The Rector’s Wife is a more passive novel; the main character is liberated from the burdens of clerical life when her husband unexpectedly dies. In The Soldier’s Wife, however, Alexa Riley manages to create a meaningful life for herself within the existing structures of her marriage and the Army. With the support of friends and family, Alexa devises a workable solution all her own and the resulting strength and hope make this one the better story.
The Soldier’s Wife is a testament to friendship, resilience, and the power of creative problem-solving. Readers of Trollope’s other novels will not be disappointed, and fans of Kristen Hannah’s The Winter Garden or Penelope Lively’s more recent novels should give this one a try.