Wednesday 28 June 2017

West End Quartet by Ariadne Apostolou

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

A complex, unusual and fascinating saga of four women whose idealism and friendship is tested by change, distance and the intransigence of the outside world.

In 1980s New York, four women form an alliance. Flatmates and warriors against injustice, Group stands for self-actualisation, acceptance of criticism and a determination to change the status quo.

The book, as its title suggests, is a quartet of novellas, each following one woman's journey.

We begin in 1980 with Mallory - British-born of the upper classes - who throws away her silver spoon and joins a female collective in New York. She falls for passionate and fiery Juan, believing he loves her as much as she adores him. Starry-eyed and smitten as she is, she knows she can never compete with his true passion: the Sandinista-driven revolution in Nicaragua. When he persuades her to join the resistance, she rejects her friends and follows. It's an experience that will mark her for life.

In 2001, Juan's sister Jasmina (Mina) is a wife and mother trying to hold down a job as a lawyer, care for her sick husband and bring up her daughter, Skye. The crazy but kind neighbour adds to the pressure by insisting someone is poisoning her plants. All the while there is a dream, a fantasy of running a bookshop for children, called Fox & Crow. Mina's in therapy, finding her daughter difficult and when Mallory arrives for a visit, tensions come to the surface.

Part three follows Gwen, still in the same apartment in New York, who rekindles an almost romance. It's 2005 and Taylor, the boy from the lake, is a scholar. So is she. He's married. She isn't. She seeks him out and lures him into a collaboration, which develops into something more. Gwen discusses her dilettante behaviour with old friend Mallory, who counsels against busting up a marriage for fun. But Gwen's grief at the recent death of her father makes her self-absorbed to the point of cruelty.

Lastly Kleio, once leader of Group, is now settled on a Greek island with her daughter Sophia. Mallory wants to forge links and suggests Skye, Mina's rebellious child, should stay for a summer. Kleio agrees but soon encounters the brittle exterior around the teenager. It's an awkward cohabitation while Kleio has issues of her own to manage. Finally, Mallory manages to draw all four women into a reunion, both sweet and sad, with an eye on the future generations of women.

An intriguing span of lives and experiences from the 80s till now, and a reminder of how much we've both forgotten and achieved.

You'll enjoy this if you liked: Between Friends by Gillian Hanscombe or Seeking Sophia by Ariadne Apostolou

Avoid if you dislike: The details of female friendships and the internal gaze

Ideal accompaniments: Dr Pepper, a messy great kebab with falafel, yoghurt and chilli sauce, while listening to That's What Friends Are For

Genre: Literary fiction

Available on Amazon

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