Nikki Amdur
June 28, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Marrying The Mistress

Current Status
In Season
Joanna Trollope

We gave it an A-

In Marrying the Mistress, when a distinguished London judge turns his back on his wife of 40 years — a gardener who’s traded her emotional landscape for ”precise rows of carrot and parsnip and beetroot” — to take up with his young mistress, an entire family threatens to unravel. But in Trollope’s expert hands, the scandal becomes an opportunity to explore the various frailties of her characters, who come across as deftly painted miniatures.

They include the widow who has taken ”a whole lifetime’s supply of daring and enterprise and left no energy behind her, nothing but a husk of apprehensiveness and profound conformity,” and the frazzled mother whose sole ambition is ”getting to the end of each day without spinning off into a vortex.” As always, Trollope (”The Best of Friends”) delivers a satisfying domestic drama without succumbing to platitudes or sentimentality.

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