Merrion Palmer lacks a critical quality of the ideal mistress: she is not pretty. What's more, in defiance of the old conventions, she is straightforward and independent. She is not Laura, the wife of Guy Stockdale, who sacrificed her identity to her marriage. Guy leaves Laura for Merrion, a choice that exposes the tenuousness of the bonds that hold his immediate family together. Trollope handles those connections with care, but at times it feels as though she, like every member of Guy's family, has chosen sides--and fallen a little in love with the mistress.
--By Nadya Labi