In brief: Stacey, Gaby, Melissa and Beth have been friends since their first economics class. On the day Stacey loses her job, the secrets and lies between the four begin to unravel.
The good: Each character is unique with a completely different set of problems.
The not-so-good: Stacey, you need to talk more!
Why I chose it: Have never read any of Joanna Trollope’s books before, so it’s high time I started. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Confession time: I’ve never read a Joanna Trollope book before City of Friends. Why? I don’t know really. I could make a lot of excuses but the truth is I’ve never really gotten around to it – it’s too hard to go to the library, the local bookshop closed down…then it’s all too late. In a way, City of Friends explores that notion – letting something slide until it’s too difficult, then nearly impossible. But the stakes are much higher here as it’s about secrets within friendships and family.
The story opens dramatically with Stacey losing her job, very suspiciously after she’s asked to work from home some days to look after her mum who has dementia. After her boss says no, he then casually mentions that she’s superfluous to the team and he was going to make her redundant anyway. This really got me simmering, the casual sexism and the fact that it’s pretty much against equal opportunity laws. The explosive start develops into a theme – can women have it all (family and work life)? What are the barriers that women face when they try to do that? Is it so wrong for a woman to say she loves her work before her family? These ideas are what hooked me into City of Friends. It’s a bold investigation into the life of a career woman.
All four women studied economics and now have high flying jobs in the corporate and academic sectors. Except for Stacey, who is a lost end with caring for her mum. It’s a different structure that lacks routine, socialisation and her mum barely notices if she’s there or not. Melissa started her own company and now tells boards of directors what to do. She excels that that but when her son says he wants to spend time with his father, she’s at a loss what to do. Gaby has the family and the high powered job that she openly admits she loves more than her family. Now if she could tell Melissa that she hired her ex-lover’s wife and that she can’t give Stacey a job…but it’s too late. Beth went into academia, becoming an in demand guru of organisation psychology but her relationship is on the rocks. Can she handle a vindictive breakup and change her future?
What was pleasantly refreshing about City of Friends is that it didn’t shy away from the characters’ flaws and mistakes. They were tackled openly once they were brought to the fore. The flaws in each character didn’t make me like them less as a reader, rather I appreciated the honesty and I could see myself being friends with them. They are not superhero workers, lovers and mothers – they all juggle everything and sometimes it fails, occasionally in cringe worthy fashion. Yet the story is not preachy or bogged down in drama – it’s a pleasant read that moves quickly. The only thing I would have liked to have seen more of is the economics as I’m interested in that area, but I really I’m in a tiny minority here (and to be honest, I don’t think it would have fit with the lighter tone of the book). I’ll certainly be seeking out more of Joanna Trollope’s novels as I thought the strong female characters and open exploration of their faults was refreshing.