Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th August 2020 from Orion
Nancy, Eleanor and Mary met at college and have been friends ever since, through marriages, children and love affairs.
Eleanor is calm and driven, with a deep sense of responsibility, a brilliant career and a love of being single and free – despite her soft spot for her best friend’s husband.
Mary is deeply intelligent with a love of learning, derailed by three children and a mean, demanding husband – she is now unrecognisable to herself and her friends.
Nancy is seemingly perfect: bright, beautiful and rich with an adoring husband and daughter – but beneath the surface her discontent is going to affect them all in terrible ways.
When Nancy is murdered, Eleanor and Mary must align themselves to uncover her killer. And as each of their stories unfold, they realise that there are many different truths to find, and many different ways to bring justice for those we love…
Everyone wants a perfect life. But there is no such thing…
There’s a reason everyone is talking about this book. It’s quite simple really, it is a fabulous read. Though it has a murder at its core, the book is actually much more about the relationships between these women and sometimes about the relationships between these women and the men they loved and/or married.
Nancy Hennessy, Eleanor Robert, and Mary Smithson are different types of women who forged a bond from the time they first met in that first week at University when everyone and everything was new and exciting and life was full of possibilities.
Somehow, despite the fact their lives evolved and took different directions, they managed to hang on to that friendship, though sometimes it was fractious, caused anxiety and even jealousies and rivalry.
Each, in truth, would like some of what the others have and perhaps that’s really what keeps them bound together?
Moving between the past and the present, the book explores the character’s relationships and what led to the murder of Nancy, as well as what followed it. Now well into mid-life, we wonder what if anything they have learned from their experiences.
When they meet, they gloss over the difficult bits of their lives, presenting their best faces. They may not want their flaws to show to their friends, but they are all too ready to pick themselves apart privately.
Two of the women have married and have children. One has pursued an academic career and eschewed a family life. One of them has a fantastic job but the others have settled for less. Are any of them actually happy? Each is secretly tinged with just a bit of desire for what they lack and the others have.
The mothers love their children, but children in and of themselves do not complete the lives they once had.
The structure of the book works perfectly. Eleanor’s story is told around the discovery of Nancy’s murder. Nancy’s story is the time leading up to her murder and Mary’s story deals with the aftermath. So the reader is able to understand the complex relationships that exist between these women and find out about their relationships with their partners and lovers.
What we find is a well of unhappiness; sometimes genuine loneliness, that is concealed as they strive always to show their best faces. Hall does such a good job of showing us how much each woman feels constantly a secondary being to their relationships; how they are lied to and badly treated by men and yet how prepared they are to open themselves up and become vulnerable for small displays of affection – even to the extent of committing the ultimate betrayal.
As a character study it is immensely powerful and quite clearly recognisable. I want to be clear that just as these are imperfect women, they are women I know. They are my friends and they are me and that’s what makes this book work so well – it carries a truth in it that is hard to deny.
Verdict: Nancy’s death is the catalyst for this book, but the tension and even at times a horror, come from the feeling that each woman has walked into a splendidly laid trap and that once she has done so, she is no more than a caged bird, singing for her supper. Beautifully written, Hall executes the complexity of the storytelling incredibly well and her three dimensional characters leapt from the pages. I liked this book so much I went back and listened to the audiobook version, flawlessly narrated by Helen Keeley. This enhanced my reading of the book and let me sink into the character’s voices. Altogether a first class read and listen!
Araminta Hall has worked as a writer, journalist and teacher. Her first novel, Everything & Nothing, was published in 2011 and became a Richard & Judy read that year. Her second, Dot, was published in 2013 and her third book, Our Kind of Cruelty, was published in 2018. She teaches creative writing at New Writing South in Brighton, where she lives with her husband and three children. She is the great niece of Dodie Smith and great granddaughter of Lawrence Beesley, who survived the Titanic and wrote a bestselling account of the tragedy in the book, The Loss of the SS Titanic.