Eleanor lived her life as a professional working for Britain's National Health Service. Upon retirement, she finds herself a bored elderly person with a cane and no real interests or relationships. Gazing out her window, she frequently sees two young ladies, separately walking along her street, one with a baby and the other with a small boy. Always alone, the two women seem to need some kind of assistance. On a day when Lindsay and Paula pass each other in front of Eleanor's home, she steps out to offer to babysit. Both refuse, but when Eleanor requests that they come on Friday night, they agree.
The Friday night gathering begins awkwardly. Eleanor learns that Lindsay, the mother of a baby named Noah, was widowed while she was pregnant. Paula, whose son Toby is a toddler, does not live with Toby's father, who is married. Although the young women seem particularly ill at ease at Eleanor's, they agree to return, which begins a tradition of regular Friday night meetings.
As time goes by, the women invite newcomers, all female, to the group. There's Lindsay's quirky sister, Jules, who yearns to be a professional disc jockey. Jules suggests that Eleanor invite a neighbor, Blaise, whose entire life, echoing Eleanor's, revolves around her career. Blaise brings Karen, her business partner, whose life is fragmented and stressful. She not only has two daughters, but she also supports her artist husband, Lucas, who hasn't sold a painting in a long time --- and she resents supporting him.
Year in and year out, the women gather, with the two young boys. They form strong nurturing friendships, an ornate pattern of interlocking relationships. But then Paula encounters good fortune, in two unrelated ways. Her son's father comes into money, so he buys Paula and Toby a luxurious condo. She also meets Jackson, an eligible man, and falls in love. She even brings Jackson to the Friday night gathering. This is a notable occasion; the women don't ever bring men, but Paula would like her friends to approve and rejoice in handsome, wealthy, single Jackson, who wants her.
But Jackson, like a stone tossed into a pool, causes a ripple effect within the Friday night group and is a catalyst for change. Some of the changes are positive. He transforms Toby from an apathetic child to a vibrant football fan, a passion Toby also ignites in Eleanor. However, each adult member of the Friday night group becomes restless in her own way. Jackson makes Eleanor uncomfortable, although she can't explain why. He approaches Jules about helping her in her career path. He drops in on Karen without Paula, plunging unhappy Karen into a quandary. Meanwhile, Lindsay grieves because Paula, busy with her new lover, withdraws from their friendship. As time goes on, Jackson's motives are mysterious, but each woman's life is knocked off-kilter by his presence.
Readers eager for a fast-paced romance or thriller may not enjoy the leisurely pace of this story. However, others will be delighted to watch each character's tale unfold. The women's lives are complex, and it is an enjoyable investment of time to get to know each. As always, author Joanna Trollope gives us a quiet but satisfying tale with excellent, solid characterization, detailed so precisely that we feel we'd recognize these women, and their shifting, complicated connections, anywhere.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on April 20, 2011