Review Blog

Feb 24 2017

City of friends by Joanna Trollope

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Pan Macmillan, 2017. ISBN 9781509846757
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Well, I have put down this book, so reluctantly, having just finished reading it, dragging myself out of Trollope's London. This is the story of four women friends, their attachments, relationships, marriages, children, and work. Trollope situates the characters at a crisis point, for each but of varying severity, where each faces a redefining of what it means to be a mother, to be married, to work, to strive to be the best, to be successful. All of this erupts before us in a vitality, this credible story of 'real women' taking place in an authentic reality, one that we can envisage, where each women needs to find a way to manage their work and personal lives. All are eager to keep the friendship, that has sustained them, and which allows them to be frank and supportive over so many years.
While acknowledging that Trollope created this story, it seems that she has constructed the world of the narrative, the characters, and their situations, as a reflection on the shared experience of modern women striving to be the best at every single thing they do and indeed, in the many roles they are expected to play. This is about work, as much as it is about modern families, our different ways of being family, our choices, our many kinds of love. It is also about learning how to handle success and failure in work and life.
Reading this book is like chatting with women friends, hearing about their lives and joining in their joys and successes, their losses and pain. Each chapter is narrated by one woman, telling us, it seems, in this very personal narrative style, about their interactions, their fears, and the importance of support and love.
I was captivated from the opening chapter, and I felt that strange sense of being vitally interested in these women, their children, their joys, sorrows and challenges, as well, of course, as knowing and understanding their emotions, even while acknowledging that this is actually a work of fiction! It did not feel like fiction - it felt like real life, and of course, her construction of plot, her choice of characters, and her depiction of their choices and actions, seemed so true-to-life.
Trollope has created, as she does so well, a story of the demands of modern life, for men and women, of work, friendship, children, education, raising families, and of the modern ways that we are expected to support the ill and elderly. She elicits a powerful emotional response in the reader to these challenges, creating a strong sense of the poignancy of the demands of modern life, where we all face the challenge of striving to be the best at what we do, of wanting to achieve success in so many areas, particularly the specific demands that modern parents face. Trollope has embedded the narrative in the bedrock of respect for the set of values that ground us: that of loving and accepting friends, children and partners, for whom they are, and this is grounded soundly in the absolute values of love, honesty and friendship.
This novel explodes with the joy of life, it bubbles with humour, dry wit at times, and evokes a strong sense of understanding the sheer impossibility of having it all under control, despite our best efforts.
Liz Bondar

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