"Alexandr and Christine and Zachary and Lydia have been friends since they first met in their twenties. Thirty years later, Alex and Christine are spending a leisurely summer's evening at home when they receive a call from a distraught Lydia: she is at the hospital. Zach is dead. In the wake of this profound loss, the three friends find themselves unmoored; all agree that Zach, with his generous, grounded spirit, was the irreplaceable one they couldn't afford to lose. Inconsolable, Lydia moves in with Alex and Christine. But instead of loss bringing them closer, the three of them find over the following months that it warps their relationships, as old entanglements and grievances rise from the past, and love and sorrow give way to anger and bitterness"--
What it's all about...
Alex and Christine...Zachary and Lydia...are couples who have been friends for a long long time. Zachary dies suddenly and the lives of the three remaining friends become chaotic. Lydia can not bear to be alone so she moves in with Alex and Christine. Her belongings are everywhere...she is a bit out of control and one night she even crawls into bed with Christine and Alex. Rather than friends pulling together during a tragedy these friends seem to be falling apart. Lydia breaks all boundaries.
Why I wanted to read it...
The summary for this book drew me in. These friends were friends for a long time. Before they were married they even dated each other’s husbands. They each had unique personalities. They seemed to make far too many allowances for each other’s odd behaviors.
What made me truly enjoy this book...
I loved reading about each different personality. Christine and Lydia went to elementary school together. They couldn’t be more different and yet they were besties for a long time. The lives of their children were also affected by the actions of these parents. The author does an excellent job of making the reader feel for each of these characters. I felt sympathy, shock, anger and frustration. My least favorite character will always be Lydia. I felt tons of empathy for Christine. I liked the way the author completed this story. The ending felt just right.
Why you should read it, too...
I received an advance reader’s copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss and Amazon. It was my choice to read it and review it.
What I like about Tessa Hadley’s writing is the way she describes people and relationships with so much insight and depth. I felt as if I was always finding out more and more about these characters and their ever-fluctuating relationships with one another, discovering things that changed the way I thought about them. She also describes how people live physically in the world, how their bodies express and hold onto their feelings and how the objects around them are charged with that person’s self. The objects that are left behind in a room after someone leaves hold a memory of the person. She also vividly describes her characters’ environments: buildings and homes, the London streets, the changing weather, and her books are very sensuous in an understated way. They make me want to live inside the pages for a long time, listening to the characters’ conversations and absorbing every last detail of their world.
There is also a younger generation in this novel, in the shape of the friends’ 20-something children, Grace, Isobel and Sandy, who in some ways mirror and repeat the stories of the parents. They are very realistic characters as the children of their particular parents and also show how this generation is quite different from the older one. Although the novel plays with different configurations of the characters and seems to swap around the relationships neatly, it’s interesting that it is not quite balanced because we see some characters (Christine, Isobel, Alex) much more from the inside than others (Lydia, Zachary, Grace) and have greater access to their thoughts and feelings. I felt closest and most sympathetic to Christine and Isobel.
There is a lot about creativity and visual art in the novel, as Christine is an artist, Zachary is a gallery owner and Alex is a poet who gives up writing and becomes a teacher. Christine and Lydia are in some ways shown in contrast to each other, although they share a sense of irony and sceptical way of viewing the world, which drew them together when they were at school. Christine is a very talented artist, as well as industrious and diligent. Throughout the book she is always doing things: working, cooking, sewing and looking after the others. She is much more reserved and self-reliant than Lydia. By contrast, Lydia doesn’t work, except for some bar jobs in her 20s, and also has nannies and help with housework. She lives through her relationships with men and Christine describes her as like an aristocrat from another era.
Following Zach’s death the characters drift into a suspended way of life outside the normal routine. The novel appears to take place within a hermetically sealed world that is very attractive but comes to seem a little precarious and threatened. The title took on different meanings to me towards the end of the book; at first I thought of it in terms of an individual life but ideas relating to art and history are also suggested through the characters’ conversations. I really liked this novel for so many things: its fascinating characters, insightful writing and slowly accumulating emotional effect.