15/05/2018

City of Friends (by Joanna Trollope)

I’ve liked most of Joanna Trollope’s books over the years, and thought I’d acquired and read all of them. But browsing Amazon a year or so ago, I realised I was lacking ‘City of Friends’. I was going to put it on my wishlist, but oddly enough it wasn’t in print, despite being quite a recent publication. However, I was going to the UK for a couple of weeks, so ordered an inexpensive copy, along with a couple of other books, from the Marketplace.

It’s taken me a while to pick the book up, but I’ve finally read it over the past few days. The story is about four women who have been close friends since university days. The novel switches viewpoint each chapter, focussing on them in turn, over the course of a few months. They all have problems, some of which are resolved during the book.

We first meet Stacey, as she is being made redundant from the prestigious company she has worked for over many years. She had hoped to work more flexible hours, as she and her husband are about to have her elderly mother, a victim of dementia, to live with them. She is devastated and also bewildered, and refuses to get in touch with her friends for some time.

Melissa is a single mother with a sixteen-year-old son, Tom. They’re quite close, and she works in an advisory role to big companies. Then Tom admits that he’s been in touch with his father - who is married to someone else - and wants to meet his half-brothers.

Gaby is small but determined, and is a managing director of a large company. Her husband runs some successful shops, and they have three children: two teenage daughters and a son of about ten. They’re going through the normal stresses of having teenage hormones in the house, and Gaby has a secret which means that she has to be very careful who she employs.

Beth is the most academic of the four; she has written books and gives lectures. She’s gay, and lives with a younger woman called Claire. They’ve bought and done up a lovely house, but when we meet them, they’re quite tense with each other, and clearly have different priorities.

It took me a little while to remember who was whom; I never quite kept track of their parents, who were mostly shadowy figures, other than Stacey’s mother. Some of the business language went over my head, too, and I didn’t particularly enjoy the rather obviously feminist agenda, and the insistence - by more than one character - that work is more important than family, that work keeps people going, that it’s more important to have a paid job than almost anything.

However, I liked most of the people; Joanna Trollope created interesting and three-dimensional characters in these four women, and I very much liked the teenage Tom, too, although I wasn’t entirely sure I believed in him. I thought it interesting that Stacey’s husband Steve is one of the nicest people in the book and Quin, too, is an excellent husband and also a good father. In trying to push women’s rights, the author doesn’t make the mistake of turning men into unpleasant characters.

The story is a bit complex in places, and I found that if I read just a chapter or two at night and then put it down for 24 hours, I would lose some of the threads and have to backtrack. But when I read it in larger chunks, it was an interesting insight into people’s lives, on the whole. I’m not sure I’d want to read it again, but if you like this author’s books, it’s worth acquiring and reading at least once.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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