I’ve had When We Were Friends by Tina Seskis sitting in my ‘to be read’ pile for a few months. As it’s not due for release until late April I’ve delayed opening it until a time closer to its publication date. However, when I finally got around to reading it I discovered that the book was—in fact—released as A Serpentine Affair back in 2013.
So this is a re-release. Obviously.
Last year I read One Step Too Far (also released in 2013) by Seskis and enjoyed it. So… I was looking forward to my next outing with the English author.
When We Were Friends is centred around a group of college friends and provides glimpses of their lives over a couple of decades.
Juliette, Siobhan, Sissy, Natasha, Renee and Camilla were once best friends. They shared everything. Then life intervened. While some of the group remain in sporadic contact, others just meet for their annual get-together.
Now in their early – mid 40s they drag themselves to a catch-up picnic in Hyde Park one evening with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Things go badly. Accusations are thrown around and things said which can’t be unsaid. The night ends in tragedy.
What comes next is the fallout from the evening and its revelations.
I have to admit I struggled to get through this. The characters were all pretty unlikeable with few redeeming qualities. I didn’t engage with them at all and really had no interest in who lived and died (I mention that because—for some time we’re kept in the dark in that respect).
Uninspiring characters (for me) generally means the plot and writing need to make up for the missing member of their trinity. And unfortunately I didn’t find this to be the case. Little happens in this novel.
It could have been, but wasn’t, a study of characters and friendships. It could have said something about how we perceive ourselves versus how we’re viewed by others. It could have challenged us to consider how we and others have changed over the years we have known them. The narrative offers readers snippets of the characters’ lives both during their friendship at college and over the intervening years. But the insight wasn’t doled out evenly and the end product really didn’t mesh together particularly well.
Although When We Were Friends isn’t a plot-driven novel I did feel Seskis could have made a little more of some of the ‘moments’. As an example… one of the women is having an affair with another’s husband and when the ‘who’ is eventually shared it’s done in such a way that is so low-key I assumed I missed the ACTUAL ‘reveal’ and flipped back to try to find it.
So… I find myself a little on the fence. I can see the novel might appeal to those who can relate to some of the characters—struggling with their children and marriages. But for me it felt a little underdone and didn’t quite reach its potential. I am, however, keen to read more from Seskis in the future.
When We Were Friends by Tina Seskis will be released via Penguin Random House UK on 23 April 2015.