The Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope is a slow-burn read. Almost so slow-burning that the story failed to catch alight. But slowly, slowly the characters and their problems drew me in and I found myself reading avidly.
The soldier in this story is Dan Riley – a major in the British Army. He has just returned home after a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. His wife, Alexa, has been left caring for twin toddler daughters and Isabel, her twelve-year-old daughter from her first marriage. The story is told from the point-of-view of Dan, Alexa and Isabel – as well as an assortment of other family members.
Alexa is a ‘good’ Army wife but, despite her love for her husband, she is finding it increasingly hard to deal with Army life and its difficulties: the absence of her husband, the moving house every couple of years, the disruption to Isabel’s schooling, and putting her own career aspirations on hold. The worse thing is that even when Dan is at home it’s like he is still away.
The soldier’s wife says: “… I can’t live purely on his (Dan’s) fulfilment. I’m a person too, with a brain as well as a heart, and all the ambitions and hungers and curiosities that brains have. I also can’t live on the emotional crumbs that fall from Dan’s table after his men have finished eating the main meal …”
Dan loves the Army life. It’s in his blood. Both his father and grandfather were in the Army and fought in past conflicts. (These two elderly gents are fantastic characters who leap off the page.) Dan also loves his wife and children. When he is away fighting, he fights for them. He makes sure to protect his wife from the horrors of war by not speaking of what he has been through. But Dan finds it difficult to settle back into everyday life.
The soldier says: “You long for home, don’t you? You fight for it. But what you forget when you’re away is that ordinary life won’t kill you, except by accident, so of course everything looks pretty small here by comparison. And pretty dull.”
The family’s story unfolds, gradually. As a reader you are drawn into the question of “whose side are you on?” But it’s complicated. I found myself wavering in support of one and then the other. Is Alexa selfish for wanting her own life? Should she shut-up because she was warned what she was marrying into? Is Dan selfish for putting the Army first in so many situations and spending more time with his Army buddy than with his family? Will Alexa and Dan’s marriage survive the simmering tensions? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I’m not sure if I was entirely satisfied with the ending …
This slow-burning book has a very real story to tell about modern Army life. It is a story of sacrifices made on all sides.