In her latest book Joanna Trollope explores modern female friendships and, despite their importance, how they can easily flounder when jealousy and betrayal set in.
Newly retired Eleanor knows she needs to get proactive if she is to have a life outside her newspapers and books. From her window in her nice London street she sees her neighbours - two lonely-looking young mothers - and decides to ask them around for a drink, and see what happens.
From this initial meeting a sort of 'book club without the book' forms, with six women ranging in age from 22 to 70 meeting up regularly.
The group includes Paula, who has a son from an affair with a married man, timid Lindsay, whose life is overshadowed by the death of her husband, her messed-up DJ sister Jules, career woman Blaise and her business-partner Karen, who's married with two children but frustrated by being the breadwinner.
They are a disparate bunch, with not much in common, except that they enjoy, and draw comfort, from the friendship and support that solidifies over the years. However, when Paula finally meets a man – the handsome, enigmatic Jackson – the whole dynamic of the group changes.
Although things do eventually pick up, Trollope paints a depressing picture of this supposedly newly emancipated society, where women are supposed to have it all and help each other out. None of them lead a particularly fulfilling life – except for maybe Eleanor, whose self-sufficiency has saved her.
Paula, Karen and Jules are women who fling themselves into their emotions, Lindsay flings herself into the lives of others and Blaise and Eleanor fling themselves into work.
The theme is to grab opportunities while you can and, towards the end, Eleanor ponders that it is up to you what life you choose to lead. "In the end it is up to you to change your life – work ends, children grow up and leave, relationships flounder. But if you hold back from plunging in, while anything enriching is on offer, then the alternative seems to me to be no more than dust and ashes, and a criminal squandering of being alive."
At times the book is a little slow – nothing much seems to happen, except for the women sitting around, chatting and falling in and out with each other. But this is a bit like life really and Trollope is a genius at communication – capturing how men, women and children have different approaches.
Overall, this is a juicy read and is 'classic Trollope' – she is queen of the civilised, domestic drama and does not disappoint here.