"...how can the presence of one unremarkable American girl make any difference whatsoever?" So thinks Henry, one of the protagonists in Joanna Trollope's newest novel. It's a question destined to reverberate as "famous last words."
Henry is a London wildlife and landscape photographer living with Tilly, an editor at a monthly women's newspaper. After many years of working and almost eight years with Henry, Tilly is ready to get married. Henry isn't, but he can't quite bring himself to say so. To assuage Tilly's growing sense of isolation, Henry allows an American woman she has befriended to move in with them.
Sailing into these uneasy domestic waters and unwittingly tipping the balance in the delicate truce between Tilly and Henry is the GIRL FROM THE SOUTH. Although hardly a girl, Gillon at 29 still struggles against the stereotypes of southern womanhood and so is surprised to find herself homesick for Charleston. One day she describes the wetlands and sweet grasses of South Carolina to a captivated Henry, unaware that her nostalgia will have far-reaching consequences when Henry decides to follow her back to the US.
With GIRL FROM THE SOUTH, Trollope expands her horizons from her usual English towns and villages to the American Deep South, and no less expertly. Trollope's thumbnail portraits of South Carolina and its environs are rich and full, all the more so because it's her characters who paint them for us.
"They'd been drinking all day. Henry couldn't remember a day when he'd drunk so steadily and easily and had felt, at the end of it --- oh, how reluctant he was for it to end --- so relatively sober. They'd set out early from Boone's enviably masculine little cabin with its thrillingly empty view of tidal marshes and bluffs into a morning of such clarity that reality had confused one another into an extraordinary kaleidoscope. By eight, he'd seen dunlins and bitterns and an amazing blurred flight of white ibis. By nine he'd had his first beer and a breakfast of processed cheese and crackers and passed through a grove of live oaks festooned with the ghostly, dreamy plumes of Spanish moss. By noon he felt that if another world existed, he hardly cared to know about it."
As with all of Trollope's books, GIRL FROM THE SOUTH has a cast of characters that is both believable and refreshingly likable. The three main characters are fully realized characters, as are the supporting players. Henry's best friend's has his own interest in Tilly, adding romantic depth to the London side of things, and Gillon's idiosyncratic extended family, who open their hearts to Henry in ways enviable to Gillon, provide both a dramatic and comedic voluptuousness to the novel.
GIRL FROM THE SOUTH's characters are complex people we could know in real life and enjoy --- warts and all. They all have the virtue of not being particularly virtuous. They're neither heroes nor villains; just ordinary people who have the potential to be either.
Solid characters and the endless variety of everyday human situations in which they find themselves are Joanna Trollope's forte. She's a modern-day Jane Austen offering up slices of life imbued with dramatic and aesthetic components that are deceptively simple, reflective of our own lives but somehow so much more interesting.
Reviewed by Jami Edwards on January 22, 2011
Girl From the South