I’ve lived in a City for as long as my 27 years on the planet have allowed.
Although I do have a genuine love of being in the countryside, complete with its pigs, sheep, horses, cows, cowpat, and afternoon tea in damp small crowded country coffee shops, I do love getting back into the City.
For those that have read my previous post, you’ll know that I’m from Hull, a City in Northern England. Whenever I meet someone that’s not from my hometown, either personally or through work, I make a point of telling them about my city. Why you ask? Because I’m a City girl through and through, and Hull has had a poor reputation in the past few decades which has truly been turned on its head the last year or so. My favourite aspect of my Home City is that Hull is unpretentious, honest and what you see is what you get from both the city and it’s people. We have cool arty areas where you can grab yourself a craft beer, watch an up and coming band, grab a some fancy nosh and a handmade chocolate truffle to go with it. Alternatively you can bury yourself in maritime art, history or just stumble through many of the antique and history ridden pubs.
I love that in each City you visit, you can feel something about the place. Take York or Leeds for example (other Yorkshire Cities that are well worth a visit!)- York is the home of the Yorkshire Pudding wrap, it’s streets look like something out of a Harry Potter film, and you can feel the history of the place beneath your feet. Leeds is a cool arty vibe with high end shops and is full of friendly welcoming people.
Safe to say, I love cities. New York and London feel like home to me whenever I visit. I love the buzz and the constant adventure of finding something new.
Naturally, I’m always interested in books that have a story line built around living within a City. So when I saw Joanna Trollope’s latest Novel, ‘City of Friends’ I immediately yanked it from the book shelf and headed for the checkout. First of all, can we have some cover appreciation over here! I absolutely love this cover, it is simple, yet effective. I can see from the cover that we’re going to be introduced to four friends, with (apparently) nice houses!
JOANNA TROLLOPE: CITY OF FRIENDS
This is my first Trollope read, having heard many good things about this Bestselling Author, I really couldn’t wait to get stuck in!
I’m sure that many of you have heard about this Author or have maybe read her previous novels, so I thought I would share my opinions, thoughts, feelings and review of her latest book!
So what do we know first of all from this lovely cover? Well we can muster that we have Four friends in a City from the graphic and from the title, but the blurb? Well that’s simply a drawing of a bench with a handbag on it, nothing else. Interesting, and intriguing!!… is this a clue that the four friends are not friends at all? A single, lonely bag on a bench does not illustrate friendship in my eyes… quite the opposite in fact!
Upon opening the book, I find that the Chapters are named by whichever Character we are learning about for that chapter, something I quite like about books with a lot of Characters, without one main protagonist. It reminds me of the different characteristics and story line of each individual character, although it can be a tool which splits the flow up of the book in my opinion.
The first Chapter is ‘Stacey’. Here we learn about our first friend in the City. Stacey is a 47 year old career woman, a senior partner in a Private Equity company, with a husband, a dog and a mother who sadly has rapidly developing dementia. In Chapter 1, Stacey has approached her boss Jeff to ask for flexible working hours to care for her Mum. The horrendous result is that she’s left that meeting unemployed, made redundant, and to be replaced by a younger man with next to no responsibilities.
I felt that this opening story focused well on the difficulties faced by most career women, the balancing act of caring for family, climbing (and clinging to) the career ladder, being a good wife whilst keeping their shit together whilst overcoming the fear of substitution, not derailing their career or pissing off their boss. I think it’s something that every career minded woman worries about; how to climb the ladder whilst also maintaining a healthy family life and being there for your family when they really need you.
Within the story, Stacey finds herself in a park having been made ‘redundant’ from her workplace, on a bench aside an Arabic lady, who is also down on her luck. The lady, having just had the latest ‘no’ for a supermarket job, feels that it’s because she doesn’t fit in to the employer’s ‘ideals’ or in her words… ‘Wrong Person. Wrong Clothes’.
I have to say that this conversation within the first chapter made me rather upset. The ladies were consoling each other, each in their own ways, after being shunned by prospective or current employers for the way that they were or the difficulties they were facing. It made me question…
‘Is this story line really reflective as to what we face in today’s society? Do you have to have a simple life with no other responsibilities, or to look the same as everyone else to be deemed employable? Is this gender discrimination? Or.. is this the truth and brutality in the competitive job market these days irrespective of gender?
Certainly food for thought and a discussion opener!
As we flow through the chapters, we are introduced to Stacey’s friends; Melissa, Gaby and Beth. We quickly learn that all women are high flying women in their chosen career field and have all known each other since University. We learn about each woman in turn, whom each have their own story lines, challenges, family dynamics and issues to overcome through the chapters. The story focuses around their challenges and how sometimes each character has a part to play in either the creation of some of these challenges, or in helping them to overcome them, like most friendships. I won’t go any further into the complexities of each character or story, as essentially this is the basis of the book and I do not wish to spoil it for you.
Whilst I could relate to some of these themes in the book, especially as a mid/late twenties career driven woman living in a City myself, I have to say that the story and it’s characters is very underdeveloped in my opinion.
Beth and Gaby stood out in my mind as being strong characters, focused on their own beliefs and goals in life, determined women who have overcome many boundaries to follow their paths, something I could certainly relate to.
However I didn’t feel a genuine dynamic between the women. I didn’t feel anything about the city or how it impacted the women and their lives. They could have lived in a village and commuted in for all the difference the city seemed to make to the story.
I expected it to have more involvement, the title is ‘City of Friends’ after all! Alas, I did not feel that the city played it’s own role within the story. In other novels I’ve read based in Cities, the City is a character of it’s own. The authors in other novels describe the city in such a way that you can feel its vibe, have a sense of it’s purpose, it’s people and it’s culture and the impact it makes to the characters. I feel that the title of this book is unrelated to the stories within it. The theme here is about the challenges of individual middle aged career women, not about the City or really about friendships.
With the exception of Stacey’s difficulties with her job, her relationship and her mother, the dynamics and story lines seemed very shallow and nondescript. The dynamics between the friendship group also felt very strained and forged in my opinion. Bar a few arguments, phone calls and meals, I don’t believe the female friendship dynamic. In some aspects, I’ve had stronger friendships with girls I’ve met in nightclub bathrooms. The ‘friendships’ here were based around being there for one another when something went wrong, friends should be there for good and bad, not just to contact when there’s an issue.
My own friendship dynamics are based upon a deep sense of understanding, respect, brutal honesty, love, care and a bucket load of laughter, weirdness and ‘in jokes’. I didn’t necessarily feel that these themes resonated among the friendships within the novel, who had supposedly known each other for 30 years. There were no ‘Do you remember when we..’ moments which are part and parcel of long friendships, or deep embodiment within each other’s lives.
This novel is the 20th in Joanna Trollope’s collection, and I expected great things. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I feel very let down by the Author, her experience as a Bestselling Writer and skill did not shine through this story.
I’m sorry to say, that I think on this occasion, shamefully… I judged a book by it’s cover.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 1/5
Unfortunately the poor character development, shaky dynamics, poor choice of title, jumpy flow and (generally) shallow story lines means that this is definitely not a book that will stay with me for life. I like a good ‘girly’ feel good read when the moment strikes, however I found this novel dull, I didn’t really gel with any of the characters, the read was difficult to finish and had no real moment of ‘WOW’ or ‘Oh my goodness!’ that I get from truly excellent books.
WHERE TO BUY:
Should you wish to make your own judgement on this novel, you can do so by finding ‘City of Friends’ from these popular outlets:
Amazon (Hardcover): £9.94
WASHED DOWN WITH:
Whilst reading this novel I sipped on Marks and Spencer’s Rooibos and Vanilla Infusion (around £3 for 15 bags).
I have to say that I absolutely LOVE this tea!! It reminds me of tropical escapes. I visited Mauritius in September 2016 and visited a Vanilla Plantation, the smell of this infusion literally transports me back to the very moment I arrived and could smell Vanilla for miles!! The Rooibos supplies a fruity warming undertone.I think this tea is a perfect winter warmer, but could also be fantastic as an iced tea.
My friends have sampled this one with me and are definite fans!!
(It’s fairtrade too!!!)
Marks and Spencer – 15 bags (around £3)
TASTE RATING 4/5
As always, I more than welcome any comments, discussion and feedback on my reviews or anything you wish to share following your own reads or any recommendations of what to review next! You can comment below or get in touch on instagram or on my contact page!
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