I ignored this book for some time because I really disliked her pervious novel The Natural Way of Things, but I saw it at the library and the blurb sounded interesting. Well, interesting for me; ‘four women, aged in their seventies, who have been friends for decades…’
There is nothing exciting or suspenseful about this story; three women come together to clear out the holiday house of the fourth, Sylvie, who has died. Their relationships are well established and they have set views about the others, including Sylvie. Their memories of Sylvie and their grief for her is very real and Wood shows her skill in making Sylvie a real part of the story, not just a memory or a reference.
Multiple points of view create reader empathy as each character negotiates their relationship with the others. I am in awe of Wood’s ability to draw characters, to distinguish these four women and make them so individual. They are all flawed, can all see each other’s flaws and, I guess, finally they can see their own.
But it is the role of Finn, the decrepit, ageing dog, filthy and smelly, which is fascinating. Finn has a profound effect on each of the three women. A gift, as a puppy, from Sylvie to Wendy, the dog is utterly loved by Wendy, hated by Jude and seen as an embarrassment by Adele. In his vulnerability, his dependence and his unconditional love, he reflects back to the women all that is good in them. They each grow through their relationship with him.
This is not the depressing novel about old age that it might seem. Each of the characters is defiantly alive and engaged in the world, independent and active participants in their own lives. In a world where we are defined by work and profession, it is irrelevance they fear more than death. This book is full of detailed observations which are at once familiar, often very funny and always insightful as these women support each other in the loss of their friend. And all this in only 256 pages!