EXCERPT: … Stacey went into the sitting room and, as she often did, sat in a second armchair, close to Mum’s TV chair, and started talking. Mum glanced at her without particular recognition but without alarm either, and then went back to watching a nature programme about meat-eating pitcher plants.
‘I’ve been to see Gaby,’ Stacey said. ‘You remember Gaby? She was the little blonde one I was at uni with. Well, she’s now a really big shot in a huge international bank. You’d be amazed to see her, Mum. Tiny Gaby controlling all that money, and all those people. We went to a cocktail place and I had two mojitos. I shouldn’t think you’ve ever had a mojito in your life, have you?’
Mum’s gaze didn’t waver from the screen. Some kind of climbing shrew had cleverly learned to balance on the rim of the pitcher plant and lick off the alluring sweetness without falling in. Mum’s expression was blank. What, exactly, was she seeing?
‘We talked about so much,’ Stacey said. ‘Over an hour of solid talking. And I found myself telling her all kinds of things, like I’d been longing – don’t get me wrong, Mum – to go back to work, but I was surprised to find that being in Canary Wharf didn’t turn me on as I thought it would. I thought that I’d be gazing at all those busy people and envying them and longing to join them, but I wasn’t. I didn’t. Isn’t that weird? I’d imagined that all I wanted was to be back where I used to be, but something in my head seems to have moved on a bit, and however much I am dying to feel my own purpose and power again, it doesn’t feel right returning to what I used to do. Does that sound insane to you?’
The shrew had now clambered nimbly off the plant and a large flying insect had replaced it and fallen in. There were extraordinary camera shots of the liquid in the pitcher plant engulfing the struggling insect. How had they done that? How had they got a camera inside a pitcher plant? Mum’s expression betrayed not a trace of wonder or curiosity.
‘Mum,’ Stacey said, ‘can you imagine how I feel? Can you visualise this really strange sensation of liberation?’
Mum suddenly said, with emphasis, ‘Good dog.’
ABOUT CITY OF FRIENDS: The day Stacey Grant loses her job feels like the last day of her life. Or at least, the only life she’d ever known. For who was she if not a City high-flyer, Senior Partner at one of the top private equity firms in London?
As Stacey starts to reconcile her old life with the new – one without professional achievements or meetings, but instead, long days at home with her dog and ailing mother, waiting for her successful husband to come home – she at least has The Girls to fall back on. Beth, Melissa and Gaby. The girls, now women, had been best friends from the early days of university right through their working lives, and for all the happiness and heartbreaks in between.
But these career women all have personal problems of their own, and when Stacey’s redundancy forces a betrayal to emerge that was supposed to remain secret, their long cherished friendships will be pushed to their limits . . .
MY THOUGHTS: Joanna Trollope is a ‘go to’ author for me. Though, I must confess, it took me a little longer to get comfortable in this book than it normally does with one of her novels. I didn’t immediately engage with her characters because, I think, their personalities are not immediately apparent. The first chapter on each is almost a biography, or at least a CV. Once I got past the initial four chapters, (one for each character) I became immersed in their lives and, by the end, could have had a coffee and a chat with them at the kitchen table.
Trollope writes somewhat elegantly about four middle aged career women who lead rather privileged lives. By that I mean that they don’t have to worry about finding the money to settle the power account or meet the mortgage payment. Although they may not have money worries, they do have other problems.
Stacey has just lost her job because she wanted to work from home in order to care for her mother who has been diagnosed with dementia. Beth is facing a personal crisis. The father of Melissa’s son is encroaching on her life, complete with his new family, and Gaby’s work and personal lives are clashing. It seems that life is spiralling out of control for all four women who have always been proud of their ability to keep everything under control and, indeed, to ‘have it all,’ and to always be there for one another.
This is real life stuff, with tiredness, and misunderstandings, ‘off’ days, the occasional snarky comment and loss of temper. While we may always love our nearest and dearest, we don’t always like them or things that they do.
Trollope depicts her characters with an astute understanding of human relationships. I love her characters, warts and all. City of Friends is not her best book by far, but I enjoyed this comfortable read.
‘I have put properties in joint names with someone else, but I have never shared a bank account.’
‘Children are lent to us. They never belong to us. They belong only to themselves.’
THE AUTHOR: Joanna Trollope Potter Curteis (aka Caroline Harvey)
Joanna Trollope was born on 9 December 1943 in her grandfather’s rectory in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, England, daughter of Rosemary Hodson and Arthur George Cecil Trollope. She is the eldest of three siblings. She is a fifth-generation niece of the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope and is a cousin of the writer and broadcaster James Trollope. She was educated at Reigate County School for Girls followed by St Hugh’s College, Oxford. On 14 May 1966, she married the banker David Roger William Potter, they had two daughters, Antonia and Louise, and on 1983 they divorced. In 1985, she remarried to the television dramatist Ian Curteis, and became the stepmother of two stepsons; they divorced in 2001. Today, she is a grandmother and lives on her own in London.
From 1965 to 1967, she worked at the Foreign Office. From 1967 to 1979, she was employed in a number of teaching posts before she became a writer full-time in 1980. Her novel Parson Harding’s Daughter won in 1980 the Romantic Novel of the Year Award by the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Pan McMillan Australia, Mantle, for providing a digital ARC of City of Friends by Joanna Trollope for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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