Anna Hope’s new novel is very different from Wake and The Ballroom, her first two, both of which I enjoyed and both of which were set in the early twentieth century. Expectation opens in 2004 and has the kind of structure that I find irresistible, exploring themes of friendship, motherhood, love and feminism through the lives of Hannah, Cate and Lissa who share a house together in their twenties.
Hannah and Cate met when they were twelve. Rivals for the top place in their English Literature set, they became firm friends and remained so despite Cate winning a place at Oxford while Hannah found herself at Manchester. There she met Lissa, beautiful and sassy, the daughter of a ‘70s feminist. All three settle into a house overlooking London Fields after university, living lives full of hard work and enjoyment. Hannah becomes the deputy director of an NGO, marrying Nathan, Lissa’s childhood friend, apparently the perfect couple. Cate involves herself in the anti-capitalism movement, leaving her lover in the States when her visa runs out while Lissa becomes an actor with all the insecurity that entails. By their mid-thirties, their carefree life has slipped away: Hannah and Nathan are into their third round of IVF; Cate has a baby with a man she barely knows, marrying him and moving out of London, and Lissa makes ends meet with whatever work she can find. These three are bound together in friendship, meeting regularly, sometimes sharing problems, sometimes donning a brave face and sometimes looking enviously at each others’ lives. Much has changed by the end of the novel – betrayal, grief, disappointment, pain have all been suffered along with forgiveness, joy and hope.
You must keep hold of your friendships, Lissa. The women. They’re the only thing that will save you in the end
Hope bookends her lovely, empathetic novel with two sunny Saturday mornings, the first in 2004 when Hannah and Cate buy breakfast to share with Lissa at home and the second in 2018 when the three, now in their mid-forties, meet for a picnic. Each of the friends’ lives are followed in narrative threads which intertwine, interspersed with snapshots from their past filling in their stories. The result is a pleasingly immersive novel which is a clear-eyed testament to the value of enduring friendship while far from romanticising it. Hope has a good eye for character: Hannah, Cate and Lissa are all perceptively drawn with depth and care but Lissa’s mother Sarah, who castigates her daughter at one point for how little her generation have made of the advances achieved by ‘70s feminism, is particularly affectionately portrayed. A quick check of Hope’s acknowledgements touchingly reveals that her mother, like Sarah, was a Greenham Common veteran. This is such an enjoyable piece of fiction. Steering well clear of the saccharine, Hope rounds it off with a satisfying ending to a novel filled with wit, humanity and compassion.