I am not instinctively drawn to books with bright leafy covers and swirly writing. To me, it advertises artificial happiness and I don’t engage well with that promise of a book. On paper, The Gift of Friends seems to be all of the things I don’t enjoy: supportive female groups, predictably happy ending and a bright, sparkling plot with something for everyone. However, I was put back in my place by the late Emma Hannigan, with this, her final book.
In the idyllic suburbia of Kingfisher Road are ten detached houses, each with a pricetag higher than the next. Each house sports manicured lawns, home baking and the road is supervised by the concerned female residents committee. To live here is to subscribe to a certain style of living and that was where my cynicism was at its highest; this depiction of the unachievable and the unattainable. However, in her fluid writing style, Hannigan introduced me to Betsy, Maia, Danielle, Pearl and Nancy and she allowed me to peer into the window of their seemingly Utopian world. To an outsider, these women are polished, financially secure; they belong. A closer inspection shows the cracks in each woman; a childhood in a Magdalene Laundry, failed marriages, an abusive husband, a mentally disabled child, a crippling sense of inadequacy, all smoothed over and muffled by the smell of freshly baked scones and roasted coffee.
Throughout the course of the novel, these women forge an alliance through necessity, each of them has their own reason to be drowning and floundering, without the support of those around them, they will not survive. It isn’t an easy thing to ask for help, it isn’t an easy thing to integrate into a society that isn’t natural to you, it isn’t an easy thing to admit that we judge others based on their address, their clothes and their social circle; but we do. Emma Hannigan is a deceptively complex and intuitive writer. On the surface her books seem fluffy and light but she gently unearths our failings, our fears and our realities and in her inimitable way, she gives us solace.
The male characters were shadowed and forgettable, which served as a contrast to highlight the relative strengths and weaknesses of the female characters. I disliked how the character of Tasha was handled and depicted; while it can’t be denied that she was a deeply unpleasant character, she seemed exaggerated and irrelevant and I wonder would the plot have progressed without her. However, this is neither here nor there because this was an enormous enjoyable experience from start to finish. I was envious of their bond, concerned for their welfare and warmed by their progression. Emma Hannigan fought the most courageous fight, especially when under the microscope of the public eye but she fought her illness with humility and extraordinary bravery and she left this stunning plot about the importance of moving forward together, in order to heal and I think that she knew exactly what she was doing with that special message. There is warmth on every single page of this book.
(c) Dymphna Nugent
Order your copy online here.