Fridays and friendship

2008-06-04 00:00

It was Eleanor — wise, calm and seemingly self-reliant — who started the Friday night social gatherings of the title of Joanna Trollope’s latest book. Facing a lonely old age after retiring from a fulfilling career as a health services administrator, she realises that what she needs in her life is people. After watching two young single mothers who live in the neighbourhood for a while, and deciding that they look as if they need her as much as she needs them, she invites them to her house for a drink and a chat. And so begin the Friday nights.

The group gradually expands to include an aspirant DJ with a wild streak, an ambitious career woman and her business partner, who is exhausted from juggling motherhood, a shaky marriage and the demands of running a company that is expanding too rapidly for her liking.

The Friday nights chug along nicely for several years with the women offering each other support and friendship, until Paula, one of the single mothers, falls for a bloke and things go a bit wobbly. Jackson is something of an enigma. The reader never really gets to know him, beyond that he is reasonably attractive, charismatic and “not up” for commitment of any sort. He drifts casually through the women’s homes and lives and, without doing anything really wrong, manages to get them all in a tizz. By the time Paula sends him packing, the group dynamics have changed irrevocably.

This is a book ostensibly about the nature of modern female friendships but there’s more to it than that. Trollope deftly weaves into the narrative the issues of single motherhood and the guilt that working mothers feel, marital stress and the struggle for a work-life balance. And as a bonus there is a delightful passage where Toby, Paula’s eight-year-old son, learns to love football — Chelsea in particular — and teaches Eleanor about the game.

Diana Procter

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