British novelist Hannah debuts here with a biting, severely realistic George Elliotesque take on a group of late-20s professionals centered in Cambridge and Yorkshire who totter precipitously on the verge of breakup and calamity.
Sim Purdy, story editor for the popular TV soap drama Potters Court, is the galvanizing center of her group of far-flung friends, who tolerate each other only because of unfathomable English school affiliations and Sim's insistence on “tribal belonging.” She lives in Yorkshire with grumpy, combative Francis, who writes for the BBC; the big wedding of their idyllically suited friends Lucy and Matt, now living in Washington, D.C., is only weeks away, but another branch of the tree, Campbell and Eve in Manchester, has mysteriously and subversively split. Sim, the consummate macher more interested in meddling in other people's affairs than in facing her own (which include coming clean about a fling with unsavory Andrew Johnson), deems it her duty to bring Campbell to his senses by ridiculing his dopey new love, heiress to the Napper tobacco fortune. Meanwhile, a Cambridge couple, ferocious-tempered, profane literary editor Vanessa and her politically minded Modern Languages lover Nicholas, begin to chill after Vanessa drives into a Chinese cyclist and sees how sadistic she can play; while Nicholas finds himself blackmailed by Gillian, one of the group's former floozy friends turned pariah. It would be nearly impossible to engage the reader's attention in a dozen characters, and not half of them sympathetic, except that Hannah via Sim cares so deeply about the nuances of intention, action, and consequence that the reader is dragged, albeit reluctantly, through reams and reams of spiraling gossip. Who cares? some of the (male) characters continually mouth, but Hannah's meticulous and thorough process is actually fascinating for its own sake.
Only a Brit could have produced this solipsistically witsome reflection of contemporary life—and nobody does it better. (Author tour)