Reunions are always the cause of disaster in popular fiction, and this novel by Emily Barr is no exception. Susie (formerly Suzii) has come a long way since her time as an overweight sixth-former and man-chaser at Lodwell's School, Cardiff (is this school modelled on Howells School?). She is slim, attractive, a well-regarded popular painter and has a lovely house in the South of France, plus an elegant boyfriend, Roman. So - what better time than to invite her three closest school friends, to show them how different she is from her schoolgirl self? Susie sets up a reunion weekend which, to her surprise, all three of her friends decide to attend. They too have changed since Cardiff days. Amanda (once a bulimic) is a horribly overweight alcoholic, both a pushy parent and a neglectful mother, who's pulling her reliable husband Patrick down with her. The once glamorous and artistic Izzy is the plump, weary survivor of an abusive marriage - though she does have a lovely small son, Sam. And Tamsin, once the 'geeky one without a boyfriend', has overcome a momentous personal trauma to form a successful and independent life in Australia, and is now tanned, glamorous and calmly wise. The changes in the friends' lives and appearances would be enough to cause tension on its own - but worse is to come, as it transpires that three of the women have a terrible secret that they have kept from the fourth for years. Now, two want to reveal it, but the third refuses to contemplate the idea... and tensions are building...
This was an odd read - I felt that Barr was in many ways an excellent writer, but I found the book itself oddly uneven and in some places downright bad. Admittedly, there were splendid parts. In Tamsin, Barr perfectly captured what it is like to be a teenager frustrated with not being grown up yet, full of aspirations and vague plans but still stuck in a very limited situation (I recognised some of the descriptions of how she felt from my own teenage years). I also felt she handled Izzy's development as she grew up from dreamy, rather passive girl to stalwart single mum very well. The early chapters describing the girls' experiences at school were great, and some of the descriptions of rural French life lovely. However, as I read on I found the book progressively more disjointed, and the plot more silly. Why did Barr introduce the 'stalker' element to the plot if she wasn't going to do anything with it? Why did charming Roman devote so much time to the ridiculous and alcoholic Amanda? Would any parent (particularly a loving dad like Patrick) be so neglectful that they'd leave their children to wander alone in the countryside for about four hours unnoticed? How had Tamsin managed to make good in Australia if she'd left England with so few qualifications - had she gone to evening school out there or something? And the big secret in the end - though horrid - turned out to be a terrible anticlimax. I couldn't work out why the girls had done what they did - there seemed no reason behind it. And - as other readers have noticed - the plot somewhat fizzled out in the final chapter into inconclusive ramblings.
A fairly pleasant read that kept me occupied for a couple of evenings, and convinced me that (if she had a better subject and plot) Emily Barr could be an excellent writer. But not one to revisit.
- Buy this item and get 90 days Free Amazon Music Unlimited. After purchase you will receive an email with further information. Offer valid for a limited time only. Terms and Conditions apply.” Learn more here.