Book Review: Balancing Act by Joanna Trollope.

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No. of pages: 432 pages
Publisher, Date: Black Swan, November 2014

SynopsisFour strong women. All working in a family business. But what happens when they begin to want different things? And what about the men – and the children – in their lives?

Susie Moran has always been the breadwinner in her family. Her husband was the one who was there for their three girls. But now he wants something of his past back – the life he had before Susie’s career took off, before they had children. And those children don’t see their mother’s business the way she has always seen it, thereby threatening the balance she has worked so hard to achieve.

And then, amidst the simmering tensions, someone significant from the past, someone almost forgotten, turns up. The problems of the past, the present, and the future all become challenges to the stability of both family and work. Which relationships – if any – will survive?

My thoughts on the book:

Balancing Act by Joanna Trollope is a classic tale of women in power, women at work, and women in control (almost!). International Women’s Day could have been celebrated with a book like this!

This book came right after my four months of hell at the hands of my current company. It came right at the end after handing in my resignation letter. During those four hellish months, I had neither the will nor interest to read, write, paint or do any of my favourite hobbies. So when I finally picked up the book to read, it felt really good. I went back to reading and it had been months since I’ve last read a book that I’ve totally forgotten what it felt like to read one.

Of course, one with a keen eye would notice that I went from one epic drama to another. For that was what Joanna Trollope’s novel was all about. Family drama. And it is this type of drama that you cannot escape from, unless you want to disown your parents and siblings.

The novel revolved around four women: Susie Moran and her three adult daughters — oldest, Cara, second, Ashley and youngest, Grace — who run and manage the family pottery business branded as Susie Sullivan. Headstrong Cara and her equally headstrong husband Daniel are involved in the sales part of the family business. Ashley seemed to be the guru in the marketing department while Grace had her head filled with designs for the pottery. However, only Daniel is the only in-law involved in the family business. Ashley’s husband has other plans while Grace has yet to find a man of her own. Susie’s husband Jasper never minded his wife’s major involvement in the business until it began to threaten his existence and the delicate balance he once shared with his wife. Of course, until Jasper decided to get back in touch with his musical roots. Susie thought she had everything under control until one day, life came and yanked the rug right from under her feet. Her estranged father had abandoned her as a baby, leaving her in the care of his parents, had turned up at the family pottery warehouse. The very threads holding the Moran family together began to come apart, leaving each family member exposed.

As I continued reading, I realised that it wasn’t all just about the family matters and the dramas that came with it. It was also about finding out who you really are and what you are capable of, as an individual, as a member of your family, and as a contributor in the family business. It was a tad complicated as well, with all the different characters and their vastly different backgrounds coming together.

Although, at some point in the book, I came across Jeff, the lowlife douchebag who says he is in love with Grace Moran but hardly showed any legit reason to back his claims up. I just wanted to pummel him in the head for being such an annoying asshole! But I won’t deny that there is a lot of truth in the book. When I turned the last page, I had learnt that views differed when it came to life itself, when it came to how one’s life is lived and led, and how different people can really be. I also learnt that we shouldn’t let people step all over us or dictate how we live our lives.

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Jean-Benoit Aubery, My Favourite French Pirate!

I don’t often fall in love with villains, but when I do, I make sure they have class.

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And the French pirate in Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Frenchman’s Creek, Captain Jean-Benoit Aubery is one of them.

Captain Jean-Benoit Aubery is the master of the ship La Mouette and leader of the crew onboard the ship. A daredevil at heart, the French pirate enjoys taking risks when he goes on his raids. According to the man, the more dangerous the raids are, the more successful they will be! What about the time when he swooped down on Lord George Godolphin from the Merry Fortune and swiped his wig with the tip of his sword. And also the time when he boldly entered the Navron House to confront and taunt the twelve men seated at the dinner table, demanded that they hand over their jewels and strip themselves down to their undergarments while his men watched over them?

The Frenchman was not your typical pirate and not your regular seafaring rogue, despite the labels given to him by the people of Fowey and Helford in Cornwall. There were news reports on his raiding and plundering that he subjected the towns of Fowey and Helford to, but on the topic of rapes and murder that pirates are so famous for, there was hardly any of the sort. Which was a good thing too, as that would have been really dark and gloomy.

So when I read the chapter after Lady Dona St Columb was kidnapped by him and taken back to the ship, I had my fears. “Was she going to be raped, tortured and killed?” I wondered. “Would she be flayed alive or left to drown while they robbed her of her pride and dignity, clothes and jewellery?” I asked myself.

What greeted me next totally caught me by surprise.

For the pirate had engaged the bored and restless wife of Sir Harry in a conversation like no other. He was philosophical and had an entirely different take on life. His views on life were positive and absorbed with an open mind. He constantly questioned Dona on everything she said and had answers for every question on her mind. He spent his free time sketching birds, smoking his pipe, fishing, and gallivanting around town with Dona, who herself sought adventure and freedom to escape from a dull and dreary lifestyle. He spouts philosophy on life, teaches a lady how to do certain things, and can communicate better than your English professor are things I really didn’t expect a pirate to do!

Lady Dona St Columb is one lucky lady to meet a charming and plucky pirate, although her title only meant that she should be carrying herself better than sailing the high seas with a stranger. Though, I would be bored and restless too if I were in her shoes, and for Dona to escape into the British countryside with her restlessness and thirst for adventure as her only guides, well, if I could, I would have done the same. Dona eventually landed in remote Navron with her children Henrietta and James, and their nurse Prue. Not too soon after, she discovered her passionate self craving the love of a daring French pirate who is being hunted by all of Cornwall. And so, together, they embarked upon a quest rife with danger and glory, but one that will eventually leave Dona with an ultimatum: sacrifice her lover to certain death or risk her own life to save him.

I don’t have to tell you the choice she made. I’m sure you would already know.

So when Captain Jean-Benoit Aubery was captured by Lord Godolphin and his team of ragtag bumbling followers, I was far from being upset. I was amused, no less, because a pirate like him could not and would not allow himself to be held for long in a prison. No, he would have had thought of ways and means to escape, with the help of Dona and William, no doubt. And when he did escape, my heart jumped for joy, did a little merry jig and was relieved that he can now resume his piracy duties and sail the seven seas once again.

It was a good book. One that I certainly don’t mind reading it again someday.