Review: Expectation by Anna Hope

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I was full of expectation (pun intended) when I picked up this novel, the third by Anna Hope. I so enjoyed The Ballroom, which I reviewed for the Yorkshire Times, and looked forward to reading her next opus.

Unlike her first two novels, which were both set in the early twentieth century, this one is much more modern, opening in 2004. Give it time, it begins slowly: make sure you have a good long period free to get to grips with this novel at your first sitting. It is about three women, who are long-time friends, and the narrative jumps not only from one to another but also backwards and forwards across the thirty years of their friendship, meaning the reader must piece together all the fragments. Once you’ve got the three characters and their relationship firmly established, it’s addictive and highly satisfying.

It is a compelling and thought-provoking study of three women: Cate, a new mum struggling with the responsibilities of motherhood, an overbearing mother-in-law and a partner who is becoming more distant by the day; Hannah, apparently successful and living a comfortable life with her university lecturer husband but in fact focussing wholly on her IVF treatment and wracked with grief because she cannot conceive; and Lissa, short for Melissa, a failing actress who sees herself as ‘the sum total…of her failures’. Of them all, Lissa appears to have a freedom that the other two do not, but in that freedom – no partner, no children, no roots – she drifts, hoping somehow to make her artist mother proud.

The reader sees their relationship develop throughout the novel: their dreams, careers, love lives, joys, grief and disappointments. All three women are now trying to come to terms with the reality of life as it is, compared with their youthful dreams and expectations, and the reader comes to understand how each is the sum of her experience; how the choices they have made against the backdrop of the society in which they exist, have all led to the present. Through her characters, who are real and raw, Hope explores themes of friendship, motherhood, love and feminism. The essence of the book is an expectation on women to do it all and have it all, but despite outward appearances each of her leading characters is left truly believing that they have somehow failed and so feel lost and insecure in their lives. They know, however, that they must never lose sight of their friends – even when their relationships are sorely tested.

Expectation is realistic – long-term friendships can be complicated. There are ups and downs but ultimately, the three friends care about each other and enjoy spending time together. Hope creates an enduring friendship which runs the gamut of emotion, rather than one which is romanticised with a sickening sweetness.

Anna Hope is good at creating believable characters and her three main protagonists are well supported by an equally well-drawn cast of partners and family. There is wit and compassion in these pages and the liveliness of London in which it is centred, is sustained throughout.

Hope is such an elegant writer that it is simply a pleasure to absorb the words she weaves together. There is almost a musical cadence at times which, despite the thought-provoking content, makes it a very comfortable read.

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