About 80 per cent of books sold in this country are said to be bought by women, none more eagerly than Joanna Trollope’s anatomies of English middle-class family life. Her 16th novel, Daughters-in-Law (Cape, £18.99), is sociologically and psychologically as observant as ever, showing how not to be a suffocatingly possessive mother-in-law.

About 80 per cent of books sold in this country are said to be bought by women, none more eagerly than Joanna Trollope’s anatomies of English middle-class family life. Her 16th novel, Daughters-in-Law (Cape, £18.99), is sociologically and psychologically as observant as ever, showing how not to be a suffocatingly possessive mother-in-law. Men, too, should benefit from this stylishly entertaining work, especially young men who are considering legitimising their love affairs. Trollope offers valuable lessons to both sexes alike on the snipping of umbilical cords.

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The central character, Rachel Brinkley, is a powerful materfamilias who attempts to dominate her three sons even after they leave home to establish families of their own. Her portrayal is recognisably realistic. The danger of caricature has been skilfully avoided. She and her extended family are represented with intimate understanding and commonsensical fairness.

Perhaps the most inspired creation is Rachel’s husband, Anthony, a successful ornitho-logical artist, who operates from his studio, a converted barn outside the large family house in Suffolk. As a bird-watcher, he knows how fledglings must be allowed to fly free. Birds are the best role models. On the book’s jacket a young woman looks up at soaring gulls. Rachel finds it hard to accept her sons’ ‘transferences of allegiance’, and the defiant bonding of her quite different daughters-in-law, and to learn that empty-nest syndrome need not be fatal.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

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