THE WEEK­END

Daily Express - - WEEKEND BOOKS - By Char­lotte Wood ROSIE HOPEGOOD

“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.

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