Lara Feigel is the author of several nonfiction works and professor of modern literature and culture at King’s College London. This, her first novel, riffs on a classic, Mary McCarthy’s The Group, first published in 1963 and never since out of print. Set in 1933, McCarthy’s study of eight women, based on her contemporaries at Vassar, dealt with sex and related dramas – like the difficulty of acquiring contraception and of breast-feeding under the scrutiny of self-appointed experts – in a way that had not been seen before and has not often been seen since. McCarthy’s eye roved widely over her characters’ families, jobs, houses, china, servants. Every sentence was stuffed with incident.
Feigel’s novel, in line with current trends, is a more ascetic work, closely focused on the relationships of five women. Some of them have the same names as and similar interests to the original cast, but they are older, approaching or just past their fortieth birthdays, and with updated professions.