City of Friends by Joanna Trollope

Work and female friendship are central themes in Joanna Trollope’s latest novel, City of Friends. This is the story of four women who met as economics students and whose friendship has endured into their forties. Each has a successful career but struggles to balance her personal and domestic responsibilities with work.

For Stacey, a senior partner in an equity firm, the drama begins when she seeks flexible working. She wants to work from home so that she can keep an eye on her mother who has dementia. But instead of acceding to her request, the company makes Stacey redundant. She is stunned. It’s the first time in her life that she has been unemployed and she quickly begins to lose herself.

For university professor Beth, the drama is the breakdown of her relationship with a younger woman.

Management consultant Melissa’s drama begins when her son Tom decides to build a relationship with his father’s family.

For investment banker Gaby, work always comes first. This creates tension with her husband Quin and also impacts her relationship with her children, Taylor, Claudia and Liam.

City of Friends — Minor Characters

Trollope cleverly interweaves these domestic dramas using minor characters to create connections and tensions in the individual friendships between the four main characters.

Of the four, Gaby is the one who most often speaks to the virtues of work. For example, in a letter to her eldest daughter Taylor, she advises: “Try to focus on work rather than falling in love. That may seem a classic mother-not-understanding thing to say, but it’s work that will keep you going through love and children and marriage, it’s work that will actually provide more fun than almost anything else that happens to you.”

Each of the four main characters is defined by work as much if not more than by their personal relationships. And for each, to some extent it is, as Gaby says, work that keeps them going. But friendship also keeps them going and never more so than when work knocks them down.

Girl Unknown by Karen Perry | Review

It’s not often I read a book in a single sitting, but that’s exactly what happened with Girl Unknown by Karen Perry.

Part domestic drama, part psychological thriller, this story is about what happens when a first year student walks into a Professor’s office and claims to be his daughter.

The professor is David Connolly. He is a history professor in UCD and is in line for promotion. Caroline, his wife, was a stay at home mother but recently returned to work. She is an advertising executive. They have two children: Holly is 11 while Robbie is doing his Junior Cert.

When Zoë Barry turns up, David is at first not sure if she really is his daughter. In fact, he’s so unsure he arranges a surreptitious DNA test. Soon, however, he comes to believe she’s genuine.

David feels protective towards Zoë. When he introduces her to his family, things seem to go okay at first. At least, that’s how it looks from his point of view. But Caroline sees another side of Zoë. Nevertheless, partly because she feels guilty about unresolved issues from the past, Caroline allows Zoë into their home.

Gradually Zoë exploits tensions in the Connolly marriage. She exposes vulnerabilities and this threatens the Connolly’s security.

As Girl Unknown unfolds, Holly and Robbie play important roles but are less well realised than the other characters.

David and Caroline are well drawn and believable characters. The unresolved issues in their relationship leave them open to exploitation and Zoe knows how to take advantage.

The story is told from David’s and Caroline’s points of view. Zoë’s character emerges through their interactions with her.

Consequently, Zoë is somewhat less developed. While her motivations become clearer as the story progresses, she’s a bit of an enigma. She’s vulnerable but also manipulative.

At many points in this story it’s not what’s said, but rather what’s left unsaid that has the greatest impact.

Girl Unknown is a short, intense read with interesting twists, including a totally unexpected one at the end.

[Disclosure: I received an advance review copy via Netgalley]