In our fickle world, thank goodness for Joanna Trollope! Every year or two for the last twenty she has reliably produced one of her engaging, yet grittily perceptive, contemporary dramas about problems facing ordinary people. Granted, they are often quite genteel ordinary people, which perspective crowned her queen of the ‘Aga saga’ in the early 1990s. The novels have varied in quality. Her first, The Choir, concerning intrigue in a cathedral close (a nod to her collateral ancestor’s Barchester Chronicles), is arguably her best. More recently, Other People’s Children expertly examines step relationships. In contrast, Girl from the South, analysing thirty-something aspirations, seemed sapped of strength and focus by having too many main characters.
At first, Friday Nights threatens to fall into the same trap, for it introduces an alarming half-dozen very different women, who meet up for wine and sympathy in Fulham each Friday night. It’s a stock storytelling device whose challenge is to bind the participants in a unified narrative.
It was Eleanor, a retired spinster, who started it all by inviting round two unhappy-looking young single mothers she saw in her street. One, Paula, has a son, Toby, by a married man who’s generous with cash but half-hearted in his efforts to be a father to him. Widowed Lindsay