As a novelist, Joanna Trollope has a gift for focussing on a variety of contemporary 21st century problems and the way they can be dealt with.
Here, we have a quartet of high flying women who met as university students and have remained in close touch with each other throughout their very successful careers.
The story opens with Stacey, a senior executive with a city investment company asking to work flexible hours, so she can help her mother, who has dementia. Her request is refused and instead she is made redundant. Still reeling from the sudden shock of it all, she returns home to be greeted with champagne : her husband is celebrating his promotion.
Stacey’s friends are all concerned for her in their own different ways. Melissa, a business consultant, is the single mother of teenager Tom; Beth is an academic with a younger, gay partner; Gaby is married with two children and is an investment banker.
Oddly, but significantly, Stacey’s crisis triggers problems in all four relationships. The knock-on effects vary, but basically are due to communication and confidentiality: how much information between friends needs to be exchanged, and how much guarded with sensitivity? Can any successful woman really “have it all’’?
Trollope keeps control of the different strands of the story, dealing with each relationship in turn but also in context. The women have to find solutions, or at least come to terms with new elements in their lives. Some do so satisfactorily, others less so – but they leave the reader to guess and speculate on possible future developments: always the sign of a readable novel.