cover image The Men and the Girls

The Men and the Girls

Joanna Trollope. Random House (NY), $20 (248pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42587-8

The men in this delightfully sage novel of domesticity by bestselling British author Trollope ( The Rector's Wife ) are lifelong friends Hugh and James--each 60-ish, sexy, appealing. The ``girls''--Julia and Kate--are a fair bit younger. Hugh, a handsome TV celeb, suffers when his popularity fades while his perfect wife Julia, lovely mother of their angelic twins, bursts into the lucrative limelight of a new TV career. Fretting resentfully, Hugh decamps. His friend James, a comfortably well-off writer/tutor, lives with Kate, who is a waitress at Pasta Please and volunteers at a woman's shelter. In search of a trendier, independent lifestyle, restless Kate finds a flat and tries to whisk away her teenaged daughter, funky-haired Joss. Both families fall apart, both interact with each other and draw into their orbits a clutch of splendidly drawn minor characters--choral kibbitzers and would-be paramours--who activate the fateful choices of James and Kate and Hugh and Julia. Noteworthy among them is shrewd, venerable Miss Bachelor, regularly setting all straight with her pithy wisdom. Underlying the novel's richly orchestrated movement of leave-takings and homecomings is the view that a loving, cozy home life--whether rowdy or serene--is a blessing to be trifled with at one's peril. Insightful and prolific Trollope, a descendent of Victorian novelist Anthony, also writes romances as Caroline Harvey. Literary Guild alternate. (Sept.)