This is probably one of my most enjoyable reads of the summer. At times incredibly moving, elements of this novel resonated strongly. On the topics of female friendships, motherhood, and aging, there were so many times I felt that surge of recognition, when a book seems to have been written just for you.
When we first meet Hannah, Cate and Lissa, they are 29 years old and living enviable lives of the young in London. After a Sunday morning trip to the local market,
‘… they lay out the food on the table in the kitchen, make a heroic pot of coffee, put on some music and open the window out on to the park, where the grass is filling up with small clusters of people. Every so often one of those people will look up towards the house. They know what the person is thinking – how do you get to live in a house like that?’
The answer is luck. Six years later, Cate is a new mum, battling with a lack of sleep, Hannah is on IVF, and Lissa is struggling to find acting roles. Things in their lives have shifted, leaving them doubting their early confidence.
Hope’s choice of epigraph sets up some of the key issues and relationships in her novel: ‘You do not solve the problem or question of motherhood. You enter, at whatever risk, into its space.’ (Jacqueline Rose). For anyone who’s ever tried to be pregnant, Hannah’s story in particular is often a hard read, and the fact is that whether you can, can’t or don’t, motherhood is an issue that features in most women’s lives in their 20s, 30s and 40s. One way or another, mothering is one of the issues all three of Hope’s characters have to deal with during Expectation.
As the novel continues, looping backwards and forwards to fill out our understanding of these three women, we see more of their lives, more of who they have become, and why. This novel focuses on female relationships, capturing all of the growing uncertainties women face as they leave the relative naivety of their 20s behind them. Partners, children and financial pressures all add to the complexities of the friendships. Aging is tackled most obviously through the character of Lissa when she discusses the search for substantial acting roles with her mother.
‘Yes, it’s wonderful she can pass for thirty. Yes, there’s bugger all between thirty and fifty, not just on Chekhov, but in everything else. Perhaps in life. Perhaps this is it – Womanhood.’
Lissa’s mother, a artist and former Greenham Common activist, is a marvellous character, offering a different way of living happily and successfully as she gets older.
Whilst the novel focuses on the three key protagonists, Hope’s novel is full of brilliant women, sometimes strong, and often kind. For that reason, and because it’s so well written, it makes for an excellent read. Highly recommended!