“WHAT was friendship, after forty years?What would it be after fifty, or sixty? It was a mystery. It was immutable, a force as deep and inevitable as the vibration of the ocean coming to her through the sand.”
Sylvie is dead and along with her goes a lifelong, four-cornered friendship which no longer feels so neat or balanced. Seventysomethings Jude,Wendy andAdele come together to clear out Sylvie’s house but, as they sort through her possessions, a lifetime of simmering grievances threaten to engulf them.
Their friendship – once a source of great stability and nourishment – is called into question, as each of them struggles to remember what drew such a disparate group together in the first place.
There’s brittle Jude whose frosty efficiency puts the others on edge; Wendy, the celebrated feminist academic, still struggling with the loss of her husband years earlier; and Adele, a vain but vibrant out-of-work actor who agonises over how she will pay her rent.
The three are accompanied by Wendy’s senile old dog Finn, his ill health a constant reminder of their own fears of future decay and decrepitude.
Despite the bleak subject matter, there is a warmth to Wood’s writing that keeps the pages turning. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect study of female friendship than this unflinching look at the intricate mesh of fondnesses, micro-tensions and resentments that bind the women but may, eventually, tear them apart.
Wood is unforgiving in her portrayal of the women yet they are so well drawn, so alive on the page, it is impossible not to feel a kinship and intimacy with each of them. Occasionally, the characters are so vivid that the novel can feel a little claustrophobic – it isn’t always easy to inhabit another human being so entirely.
This isn’t a pacy or plot-heavy book. For the first two thirds, so little happens that it seems unlikely the story will build to a satisfying climax.Yet the denouement is so magnificent, so heart-rending, that there is no doubtWood is a writer of an exceptional calibre.
Set in Australia over the course of a hot, long weekend, this is a great big gulp of a novel that cries out to be read in a single sitting.