Daily Express


- 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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