What makes Joanna Trollope’s contemporary novels so good is that she takes ordinary people, living fairly ordinary lives, and shows how they gradually transform and grow while dealing with difficult situations. This sounds rather mundane, yet each time I read one of her books, I can hardly put it down. You barely see it happening, but by the end of the story, almost all the characters are different people from who they were at the beginning.
The same holds true for Friday Nights, the Trollope book I just finished. It follows the lives of six women who have developed the habit of getting together at each other’s homes every Friday night, for companionship, conversation, and friendship. While one of them is married, all the others are currently unattached. So the appearance of a man in the life of one of the women, and the other women’s response to and interactions with him, provide the catalyst for the character developments in the story.
We go through everything: feelings of abandonment and jealousy, selfishness, tension between sisters, people facing their own insecurities, kids feeling forced to take sides. I worried, at first, that with six women and the people connected to them, Trollope might have taken on much more than she should have this time, and that she wouldn’t do justice to some of the characters. But I shouldn’t have worried, because once again she takes care to follow each character, showing how their experiences teach them to be better people and treat each other, and themselves, in more authentic ways.
Trollope is simply the queen of quiet character development. In each of her books, when the really thorny problem arises, you wonder, “How are these people going to get out of this one intact?” The ways they face the problem, the mistakes they make, and the clearer vision they end up with at the end — all of these things develop plausibly and humanly. You even learn empathy for the dislikable characters, as you get inside their heads and understand why they behave as they do.
All of Trollope’s contemporary novels are quiet, and at first you could be tempted to think nothing actually “happens.” Yet you can’t stop reading, to find out what the people do next, how they will misunderstand or finally understand each other, and how they will grow. For people who love books about character development in real-life situations, Trollope’s books are exactly what you’re looking for.