The Group by Lara Feigel – Review
By Ceri Saunders
“We worry about not knowing our friends well enough, but sometimes we see their lives with a clarity that feels like a form of betrayal.” Why is it that we hold on to friendship groups of yesteryear? Do they exist through desire, necessity, or even, perhaps, a desperate attempt to remember the best years of our lives?
That is exactly what Lara Feigel explored in her latest release, The Group. A modern reimagining of Mary McCarthy’s 1963 bestseller of the same name, Feigel explores a year in the lives of five women whose lives play out through the narrator’s eyes in a modern-day London.
Warm memories of sunny days as high-achieving students in 1990s London form the basis of the women’s friendship, which now, as they collectively turn 40, is bound together by little more than looking back with rose-tinted glasses.
But secrets, sex and scandal dominate the group’s lives as they feel increasingly isolated as their strive for happiness and success – and at whatever cost.
In a similar ilk to McCarthy’s original, the plot follows privileged, largely wealthy upper middle-class white women, whose ‘problems’ are borne from circumstances many would wish to find themselves in.
Kay’s home she shares with successful novelist husband Harold and two children is immaculately kept by their maid – yet she feels stuck and unable to pursue her real dream of writing herself, thanks to her own choice to drop them in the first place. What is the cost of a family to personal success?
High-flying single gynaecologist Polly finds herself in a position of power when she finds herself sleeping with her boss, but finds that the thrill of the chase – or, indeed, getting what she wants – may not be as fulfilling as she’d hoped when it comes to the bigger questions in life.
Stay-at-home mum Priss longs for attention and excitement despite her steady and seemingly successful marriage – but is soon to discover that Stella, a soon-to-be divorced member of the group, had been secretly engaged in an eight year-long affair with her husband.
Helena, whose maternal instincts can’t be shaken off alongside her successful career in TV, longs for a child of her own in seeing her friends raise their own families. Will this be the answer to her unhappiness?
Children – and the choice to have or not have them – form an integral part of the group’s outlook on life. The prospect of running away and leaving it all is a common theme in each of the character’s intricate subplots.
The empathy you feel for these women is no doubt a reflection of Feigel’s cleverly written prose, offering no direct speech from each of the characters but instead describing in detail the conversations that take place.
Modern politics come into play, too – the #MeToo movement has had a profound effect on each of the women in different ways, whether that’s in their own sexual relationships or when coming to terms with the likely exploits of those close to them.
Despite an initial reluctance to understand and empathise these women, by the end of the novel you are fully invested and are left hoping that they do eventually find happiness – wherever that may be.
The Group by Lara Feigel is published by John Murray, £16.99 paperback