Having seemingly lost all my writing files to the mal function of my external hard drive I have been searching through the jottings in my old note books. I was planning to start once more on the submission game until the unfortunate and I desperately hope, temporary loss of the aforementioned files. In one such salvaged dairy I had apparently started to read Joanna Trollope to discover just what made her so publishable and established in the genre of womans fiction. Agents and publishers alike all seemed to respect her work and consider it a sure-fire bet to produce guaranteed sales in several languages. What, I asked myself was so special about her apparently light weight novels which distinguished them from, well in all modesty, mine for example?
The Spanish Lover was a case in point. The plot was not particularly engrossing, it was her insights into character and what forms and motivates us in the course we take through life that gave me a possible answer as to why she is so well-considered as well as read. This was I realized, what I myself aspired to, and all of it requires frightening honesty from the author, accidental insights into our own innermost and sometimes secret feelings.
At the start of the story she explores the relationship between two sisters. The elder sister has an orderly house,
‘ A monument to her fearsome domestic competence.’
I immediately know this woman, recognize her instantly in my own sister but what followed hit me even harder,
‘Would she exchange her richly domesticated life for her sisters free but lonely one?’ she asks. While the younger sister who is paying one of her rare but none the less inevitable visits between her life of travel admits her own dilemma.
‘You get used to singleness’ she says, ‘to not being essential to someone, but you don’t like being asked about it.’
When she meets the Spanish Lover of the title she is reluctant to admit attraction. Despite her exciting life of challenge and new experience, her risk taking, she realizes that on a personal level she is profoundly shaped by her background. She is forced to admit even if only to herself that she has, I quote,
‘This English habit of reticence, reluctant to articulate feelings, almost afraid to, like a terrible politeness, a kind of courtesy so self-denying, an affliction that in the end imprisoned the sufferer.’
I think I came to the conclusion that not only must we identify with at least one or two of the protagonists, and therefore actually care what becomes of them but more importantly find something that moves us forward or inspire us in some way to a better understanding both of ones self and of others.
Developing character and the profound yet effortless revealing of layers of understanding in a single phrase are what gave me the answer to my question about Joanna Trollope. I would not necessarily read her novels but she taught me a lot.