I first read this book back in 2013 under its original title A Serpentine Affair but it has now been published by penguin and the number of friends reduced from seven to six. Since I enjoyed the story the first time around I was keen to see what difference the changes made, the result, the story felt much sharper while still retaining the original elements that made this such a good story.
After my comments in my review of The Lie where I stated that it was unusual because it tackled the nature of friendship, this book contains the same themes. What happens when what originally bound women together becomes fractured? When is it time to call it a day on a friendship that has lasted for decades?
We meet Camilla, Sissy, Juliette, Siobhan, Natasha and Renee as they prepare to meet up for a picnic in Hyde Park, by the Serpentine Lake. All women arrive for the rendezvous but only five leave and the reader is left in the dark until close to the end of the book as to what happened on that fateful evening. What is obvious is that there is tension between the women, Sissy didn’t really want to go, she had already come to the conclusion that the bonds formed during their first term at university had been stretched to the limit and Siobhan was aware that the rest of the group still viewed her as the ditzy student she had been, her successful life had passed them all by, after all they are now in their forties, no longer teenagers.
One of the best things about this book is the reflection of the roles that the women take, the organiser, the victim, the floozy etc. and the author takes us back to the roots of those roles, and in many cases the reasons behind them. Their stories weave in and out of time periods, sometimes overlapping with one or more of the group to create a truly insightful book with the tensions caused by the secrets they keep, and sometimes the secrets they think they have kept. Rivalry and jealousy abound and it is obvious that over the years they have simmered under the surface until the wine consumed on a summer’s evening, close to Diana’s fountain, these emotions finally break free and things are said that can never be unsaid.
The characters are well-defined, the secrets varying in shock factor but it is the consequences of events in the past that have the most impact. This is a novel of its time, set in the present of 2011, there are references to the hacking scandal that was emerging at that time, but the author keeps the time periods separated to allow the sections between past and present to be clear.
I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books UK for allowing me to read this novel which was published yesterday, 23 April 2015. If you haven’t already read it I thoroughly recommend this author’s debut novel One Step Too Far which she successfully self-published.