Old Friends by Felicity Everett:  Family drama at its unsettling, psychologically astute and entertaining best – book review –

It seems like a dream plan; two couples, best friends for almost twenty years, move in together for a fresh start all round. Nothing could possibly go wrong… or could it?
Old Friends by Felicity EverettOld Friends by Felicity Everett
Old Friends by Felicity Everett

Felicity Everett, author of some cracking, darkly satirical novels, including The People at Number 9 and The Move, casts her sharp eye and analytical writing skills over two unlikely friendship couples and the dangerous fuse that is lit when a collective move from London to Cheshire sets in motion a deadly sequence of events.

Brimming with insight, intrigue and emotional intensity, and with a slow drip of disturbing revelations, Everett’s masterful exploration of the pitfalls and pressures of 21st century life brutally exposes the perilous fault lines buried under the two seemingly happy marriages.

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Architect Harriet and her husband Mark, owner of a thriving PR business, would appear to have it all… successful careers, a lovely house in an upmarket, leafy London suburb, and 21-year-old twin boys, Ollie and Jack, at university but on the cusp of leaving home.

Mark – whose life is obsessively organised – is proud of his rise to the top but has a relationship problem with his wayward son Ollie who, unlike his ’ticks every box’ twin Jack, has a history of truancy and behavioural issues.

Harriet is currently working on a tricky project to convert a crumbling warehouse in Macclesfield into an eco-friendly housing co-operative but cannot escape her obsessive desire to have another baby despite a string of miscarriages and the fact that she is now forty-four.

Their best friends Yvette and Gary share a smaller place with their two daughters, Jade and Ruby, in a shabbier part of the same London borough. Once a rock band ‘god’ but now a music teacher at a failing comprehensive, Northerner Gary is desperate to recapture his youth (even if that means using ‘coke’) and to revive his long-lost music career.

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Meanwhile, Yvette, who was only sixteen when she got pregnant and had a shotgun wedding to Gary, is now a school teaching assistant and is currently caught up with daughter Ruby’s fertility problems and Jade’s undesirable boyfriend.

But when the stars align for a collective move North, it promises to bring the new beginnings they all long for. For Mark, it’s a chance to escape the rat race and for Harriet, it’s a distraction from wanting that late third child. Gary has decided to reboot the band that made him famous while Yvette hopes it will give her daughters what she never had herself.

But as the reality of their new living arrangements slowly sinks in, the four friends face their own mid-life crises, and the dream of a fresh start becomes a nightmare…

Using class differences, and contrasting lives, dreams and expectations as the lynchpin of her clever and compelling story, Everett probes deep into the corners of the human psyche in this addictive slice of domestic noir.

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With a narrative that alternates between the perspectives of the four fascinating lead players in a gripping character-driven drama, Everett allows readers to witness the complex cross-generational dynamics underpinning the flawed relationships.

Add on a sprinkling of dark humour, a perfectly paced and subtly nuanced plot, and some gritty real-life issues, and this is family drama at its unsettling, psychologically astute and entertaining best.

(HQ, paperback, £8.99)

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