EXPECTATION by Anna Hope was described by RTÉ’s Eileen Dunne as “a great holiday read” owing to Hope’s exploration of female friendships as they undergo the test of time. I disagree with this being a suitable holiday read; well, at the very least, it wouldn’t be my choice of holiday read.
Spanning a time frame of some 32 years (from ages 12 to 44), three women grow up, navigating the pathway from childhood to womanhood, learning how to manage their expectations, both from themselves and from society.
A holiday read is, by its very nature, easy reading and easy to dip in and out of but the jumping time frame, the weight of the issues discussed and the concentration required to stay on top of each narrative stops me from recommending Expectation in such seasonal terms.
Lissa, Cate and Hannah have been friends since teenage years, living together, partying together, and providing a consistency of sorts for one another.
By the age of 29, all are still renting rooms in London, yet the changing face of London and the space each of them occupies in it begins to change.
Lissa, a struggling actress, parties all night and leaves a litter of cigarette butts and empty bottles en route to her room. Cate and Hannah are much more alike, with a desire beginning to grow in them to be more, to do more, and by the age of 29, to find that solid anchor.
This raises an interesting question regarding society, are we expected to do more, to be more or do we put that pressure on ourselves?
Lissa is regarded all the way through the book as being unsatisfied, even unsatisfactory due to her late nights, even later mornings and her income instability. She contrasts as a character with Cate who marries and becomes a new mother, and Hannah who marries and becomes Deputy Director of a large charity.
Cate and Hannah move out of the rented rooms and into their own homes, leaving Lissa in the same place she has always been but with her constants now gone. When we are young and full of a sense of adventure, is the goal always to settle down and at what point do we start to scorn those who have not ‘settled’ in the same way that we have?
Yet, once those expectations we have set for ourselves, those milestones, have been achieved, what then? Lissa is living an exciting life as an actress who has to fight tooth and nail for jobs with a definitely finite bank balance, Cate is sinking into the realisation that she doesn’t know her husband very well and she is juggling their baby and the laundry, Hannah has ample wealth and security yet several rounds of IVF later prove fruitless.
What happens to that solid friendship, that constant, when those expectations are crushed and taken away from us? Each woman sinks into the darkness of her own struggles, each certain that the other doesn’t understand her, each envying the life enjoyed by the other.
Does managing those expectations makes us selfish, or does the unexpected weight and importance which we place on the certainty of those plans, suddenly make the load unbearable when the pathway starts to crack?
Anna Hope has written something very relevant and really quite relatable for 21st Century women and friendships. Lissa’s mother warns her early on: “You must keep hold of your friendships, Lissa. The women. They’re the only thing that will save you in the end”.
Anna Hope has given us a warning, a solid reminder that friendships scaffold and support us when things start to fall and it is easy to disregard those friendships as life pulls us in different directions. This had a strong plot and a strong foundation but I found that the time line was too jumpy, the idea perhaps too big for this book and I found some of the characters, especially the male characters flawed and clichéd.
This lost its lustre for me at about the three-quarter way point and it never shone again. The ending wrapped things up in a poignant way, but it was too late to save what for me, was an anticlimactic plot.