Joanna Trollope's warm, insightful novel stars Eleanor, who invites two young mothers into her home from off the street, and slowly begins to connect with them and their friends. But when one of them meets a man, new questions are posed: can female friendships withstand the jealousies and intricacies of love?
With wit and warmth Joanna Trollope opens a window onto six very different women's lives, their passions and their sorrows, and explores with insight and humanity the shifting currents of friendship.
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.91(d)|
About the Author
Joanna Trollope, the nationally bestselling author of seventeen other books, including Second Honeymoon, Brother & Sister, Marrying the Mistress, and The Rector's Wife, lives in Gloucestershire, England.
Read an Excerpt
Friday Nights A Novel
By JOANNA TROLLOPE
BLOOMSBURY USA Copyright © 2008 Joanna Trollope
All right reserved.
Chapter One Toby's mother said that when Eleanor came he'd have to go down to the ground floor and help her with the lift.
Toby said-sulkily, because he was angry with her for something he couldn't quite put his finger on-"She doesn't need help."
His mother was standing in front of the mirror she had propped on top of a chest in her bedroom. She was arranging her hair in a complicated kind of knot, and she had a hair clip between her teeth.
Through it she said without looking at him, "Toby, this isn't about need. It's about manners."
Toby kicked one foot clumsily against the other. Then he went out of his mother's bedroom and banged the door shut and leaned against it. This door, his mother's bedroom door, was one of only a few doors in the flat. There was just that door, and the front door and the door on the bathroom. The rest was just space. Upward, outward, sideways. Just space.
"I live in a loft," Toby said to someone when he'd started his new school.
Several boys had stared at him, elaborately uninterested.
"Whatever," they'd said.
"I do," Toby had said to himself silently all that day. "I do." And then, "My father bought it."
He had. Toby's father had bought the loft two years ago, and had given it to Paula and Toby.
"Conscience money," Paula's friend Lindsay said.
Paula hadn't replied. She put the photograph of Toby's father on the black rattan chest between two of the huge high windows. It was a photograph taken on a boat, and Toby's father was sitting on the roof of the cabin, and he was smiling. His feet were bare. The photograph did not, however, include Toby's father's wife and children who were, Toby knew, the reason why he and his mother lived in the loft on their own.
"At least," Paula said sometimes to Toby, when she got very loving and then very angry, "at least you know who your father is."
What she meant by that Toby hadn't the faintest idea. And he certainly wasn't asking. Occasionally, if he was alone in the flat while Paula went to buy a newspaper, or to collect the dry cleaning, he would pick up his father's photograph and lay it facedown on the black rattan chest.
"You just stay there, Gavin," he'd say. "You just do as you're told."
He sighed now. He wanted to be back in his mother's bedroom, but he had made that impossible. He sighed again. The loft looked enormous in the gathering gloom, as if the walls and ceiling were quietly dissolving into the darkness, just melting away so that the night could pour in. Paula had lit her lamps, the lamps that threw light up into the dusky spaces, the lamps that let light fall onto her orange cushions and the rug striped like a zebra. She had put glasses on the low table between the sofas because people were coming, glasses and bowls of varnished Japanese rice crackers. People were coming. Eleanor was coming.
Toby pushed himself away from the door and stood up. He liked Eleanor. She walked unevenly with the help of a stick, and her hair was a white fuzz, and she talked to him as if he might have an opinion worth hearing. He also liked how his mother was with Eleanor, how she was calm and able to think about things that weren't automatically going to upset her. Eleanor once said to Toby that the older she got the more she preferred the universal to the individual and personal. Toby had wondered if she was talking about galaxies.
He went slowly across the living space, avoiding, as usual, actually treading on the zebra rug. On the far side, a metal staircase resembling a ladder with perforated treads rose up in the dimness to the platform where Toby's bed was, and his computer, and the toy theater for which he collected puppets. He climbed the ladder slowly, a deliberate tread at a time, until he was out of the glow of the lamps and into the privacy of darkness. Then he sat down on the top step of the ladder and leaned forward, until his chin was on his knees, and he sighed again. Friday nights.
It was Eleanor who had started these Friday nights some years back, after observing from the bay window of her front room two young women endlessly trailing up and down that low-built street in Fulham. One had a baby and one had a small boy. They were never together, and they were never, as far as Eleanor could see, accompanied by a man.
Eleanor had seldom been accompanied by a man herself, but then she had never had a baby or a small boy either. Watching the young women, she had seen what she had so often seen during her long working years as an administrator in the National Health Service-manifestations of those brave coping mechanisms devised by people concerned not to be pitied for being alone. Being alone, Eleanor knew, was not in itself undesirable: it was the circumstances of aloneness that made it either a friend or a foe. And being alone with a small dependent child, and thus in a situation considered by the conventional world to be ideally a matter of partnership, was not a situation for the fainthearted. Sometimes, Eleanor thought, watching them over the top of her reading glasses, the set of those young women's shoulders indicated that their hearts, for all the outward show of managing, were very faint indeed.
One day, seeing them both approaching from opposite ends of the street, she had limped out on her stick into a sharp spring wind and offered to babysit. Both had been extremely startled, and both had demurred. The girl with the baby said she couldn't leave him. The young woman with the small boy said she had no money. Eleanor said she didn't want money. The young woman said, somewhat desperately, that she couldn't handle obligation.
Eleanor leaned on her stick. She took off her reading glasses and let them hang round her neck on the scarlet cord she had attached in the hope of not losing them.
"Then do me a favor," Eleanor said.
The girls waited, sniffing the wind.
"Let me be the obliged one," Eleanor said. "Come and see me. Bring the children. Come on Friday night."
They came, mute with awkwardness. The baby slept in his pram. Toby, aged almost three, squirmed on the sofa under a crocheted blanket and threaded his fingers endlessly in and out of the holes. Eleanor opened a bottle of Chianti, and poured out large glasses. She learned, with patience and difficulty, that Paula, Toby's mother, could not, for some reason, live with Toby's father. She learned that Lindsay, mother of baby Noah, had been widowed when her husband, a construction worker, had been crushed by a cement slab.
"It was a year and three months ago," Lindsay said. She looked across at the pram. "I didn't even know I was pregnant."
"Nobody should be required to bear that," Eleanor said.
Lindsay said quickly, still looking at the pram, "I'm not bearing it."
They did not, either of them, seem to know how to arrange themselves, nor when to leave. At ten o'clock, Eleanor got stiffly to her feet and said that she was afraid it was her bedtime. They went out together, with the pram and the stroller, hardly looking at her as they said good-bye. Eleanor, beginning on the nightly ritual of closing and locking and bolting, thought how often it was the case that a small good intention was snatched out of one's hands by human conduct and inflated into something much larger and much less manageable. She regarded herself dispassionately in the looking glass set into the art deco coat stand in her hall.
"Persevere," Eleanor told herself. "Keep going."
Three Fridays later, they came again. Eleanor had seen Lindsay in the newsagent's on the corner of the street, and Paula comforting Toby who had fallen out of his stroller while struggling against being strapped in. They had not accepted with enthusiasm, but they had not refused either. Eleanor made pâté, and bought French bread, and chocolate, and juice for Toby in a small waxed carton with a straw. Lindsay brought six mauve chrysanthemums in a cone of cellophane printed to resemble lace. Toby climbed out of the crocheted blanket and drank his juice on his mother's knee and stared at Eleanor's hair. They had stayed until ten fifteen, and Paula had been able to look straight at Eleanor for a few seconds and say uncertainly, "That was kind of you."
Eleanor took her glasses off.
"If kindness isn't just a form of self-interest, thank you."
A few weeks later, Lindsay asked if she could bring her younger sister. She looked at a point just past Eleanor's left ear while she asked this, and the request became entangled in a long and confused explanation of how Lindsay's parents' inability to parent in any sustained way had left Lindsay as the only person in her sister's life who could provide any mothering. It was an anxious task, Lindsay implied, since her sister seemed to have inherited her parents' taste for a wild and irresponsible life. She was working in a club in Ladbroke Grove as a warm-up disc jockey when she could get the work, and Lindsay was worried about the ways in which she was spending her free time.
"What is her name?" Eleanor said.
"Julia," Lindsay said.
"Jules," Jules said, when she came. She had red-and-yellow striped hair and was wearing a flowered tea dress over thick black leggings and heavy laced-up boots. She had on purple lipstick. Toby stopped staring at Eleanor's hair and stared at Jules instead. She stared back, her bitten-nailed hands wrapped round a mug of tea, which was all she would drink. She spoke to no one except to say, her eyes roving over the incoherent contents of Eleanor's sitting room, "Cool room."
Lindsay had come round to Eleanor's house the next morning. She had a baby cyclamen in a plastic pot in her hand.
"It's a bit awkward," Lindsay said.
Eleanor smiled at Noah. He was lying in his pram, wearing a yellow knitted hat that made him resemble an egg in a cozy.
"Jules, well, Jules doesn't live in a world where people say please and thank you much."
"I'm used to that," Eleanor said.
"I didn't want you to think-" Lindsay stopped.
Lindsay held out the cyclamen.
Eleanor transferred her stick from one hand to the other.
"I like cyclamen. But I don't need an apology."
"Bah," Noah said from his pram.
Lindsay looked down at him.
"Jules never pays him any attention. It's as if she hasn't seen him."
Eleanor took the cyclamen out of Lindsay's hand.
"She's seen him all right. Thank you for this."
"I don't expect she'll come again-"
"Do you know," Eleanor said, "these days, I seem to save getting upset for the big things."
Almost two months later, Jules did come again. She wore a pink baby-doll chiffon top and a leather waistcoat and a miniskirt over jeans. She thrust a parcel wrapped in newspaper at Eleanor and went wordlessly off to the kitchen to make tea. In the newspaper parcel was a battered hand mirror made of black papier mâché inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
"Thank you," Eleanor said, surveying herself in the clouded glass. "I am very touched."
Jules shrugged. She looked round Eleanor's determinedly unmodernized kitchen.
"Yeah," she said approvingly.
It was that same evening that Toby slid down from Paula's knee and went to stand two feet in front of Jules so that he could examine her properly. It was that same evening that Eleanor described her childhood, growing up in a tall redbrick house down the southern end of the Munster Road. Her bedroom had looked out onto the railway, and her world, she said, had been a linear one, defined by the number 14 bus route, with school in Putney at one end, and infrequent snatches of bright-lights life in Piccadilly at the other. It was that evening that Lindsay had broken down completely and out of the blue, and Jules had fled to the stairs where Eleanor found her steadily banging her head against the wall while chanting, "Shit, shit, shit," like a mantra. It was also the evening when, escorting them all out of her front door and down the negligible path to the pavement, Eleanor had seen her neighbor of two doors away, a well-dressed woman invariably in a professional-looking suit, pause in the process of unlocking her own front door to look at them all with more than passing interest, with, in fact, considerable curiosity. Eleanor looked back. The woman gave an irresolute smile. Eleanor nodded.
"Who's she?" Paula said.
"A Miss Campbell, I believe."
"Shush," Lindsay said. "She can hear you."
Miss Campbell got her door open and pulled her key free.
"She can," she said, and stepped inside.
The door closed. Jules was standing on the pavement, her fingers in her mouth.
"Ask her too," she said.
"I think," Eleanor said, "Miss Campbell doesn't lack for a social life."
"I dare you," Jules said.
Blaise Campbell arrived some Fridays later, with a bottle of Riesling and a bunch of violets. Noah was complaining in his pram and Toby had taken the crocheted blanket under the table and was lying with his thumb in his mouth and his free hand grasping his mother's foot. Lindsay and Paula watched Blaise enter Eleanor's sitting room as if she were embarking on the unknown tests of an initiation rite.
"We are not used," Eleanor said, "to wine as superior as this. Thank you."
Blaise made a little deprecating gesture. Perhaps she was thirty-five, Paula thought, perhaps older. She had the polish of someone older but that might be because she was a lawyer or an accountant or one of those professionals who have to look older than they really are in order to look as if they know what they are doing. She watched Blaise step round Toby's protruding foot in its blue-and-red slipper sock, and take a chair with the neatness of someone used to doing it in public. Paula looked at Blaise's hands. Well cared for. Ringless. She had folded them on the table, as if she were in a meeting. Perhaps she was also used to meetings.
"It's very kind of you," Blaise said, "to include me."
Eleanor smiled at her.
"I expected you to turn me down."
Noah's voice rose to a wail.
"He's hungry," Lindsay said. She went over to the pram, her skirt rucked up from where she had been sitting. "He's always hungry."
Blaise said politely, "How old is he?"
Under the table, Toby's hand left his mother's foot and walked, crabwise, across the floor to one of Blaise's feet. It was shod in a patent-leather pump. The hand considered the patent leather for a moment and tried a few experimental taps, and then it crept up Blaise's foot and grasped her ankle.
"Oh!" Blaise said. Her eyes widened.
Paula glanced under the table.
"Stop it, Toby."
Toby, his thumb still in, paid no attention.
"Let go!" Paula said.
Blaise said hastily, "I don't mind ..."
Paula sat back. It was another tiny test.
"Oh well then-"
Blaise looked round at them all. She cleared her throat. Paula tried to catch Lindsay's eye, to mouth at her, "She thinks we're a meeting!"
"I probably shouldn't ask this," Blaise said, "especially on my first visit, but-but can anyone join?"
Eleanor put a handful of old-fashioned hock glasses with green stems down on the table.
"It's just," Blaise said, "it's just that I've got a friend, I mean a colleague, someone I work with, who was terribly envious of me when I said where I was coming tonight. She says she almost never gets to talk to women, except at work, she's just too busy." She looked round the circle. She said, a little louder, "She's the breadwinner, you see. Her husband is an artist. They have two little girls. She simply made me promise I'd ask. So I have."
Eleanor drew the bottle toward her. Nobody spoke. Toby let his hand slide down Blaise's foot to her shoe. His hand was warm and slightly damp. He found he could stick it and unstick it to her shoe.
Eleanor pulled the cork out of the Riesling. She looked at Blaise. Blaise was looking at Lindsay and Lindsay was looking at Noah.
"Well, bring her," Eleanor said. "Why not?"
Excerpted from Friday Nights by JOANNA TROLLOPE Copyright © 2008 by Joanna Trollope. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
1. Toby is angry with Paula ‘for something he couldn’t put his finger on’ (p.7)
Why is Toby so angry? How and why does his anger change towards the end of the book?
2. ‘Perhaps [Karen] should talk to Eleanor, or at least talk her way through the confusion of her thoughts in Eleanor’s presence’ (p.208)
What role does talking play in Friday Nights? Do different characters — men, women and children — have different approaches to communication?
3. ‘“Can’t a man give you something to believe in?”
Paula’s boss is unequivocal about men’s role in women’s lives. (p.35)
Would you say that Joanna Trollope shares this view in Friday Nights? Is this a cynical book? Or a feminist one? Or simply refreshingly realistic?
4. Consider the following passages. Each is written from the standpoint of a third person narrator, yet look at any variations in tone, language, style and perspective. What is Joanna Trollope aiming to achieve here and elsewhere in Friday Nights? Is it a successful technique?
‘Toby kicked one foot clumsily against the other. Then he went out of his mother’s bedroom and banged the door shut and leaned against it. This door, his mother’s bedroom door was one of only a few doors in the flat. There was just that door, and the front door and the door of the bathroom. The rest was just space. Upwards, outwards, sideways. Just space.’ (p.7)
‘Many women – most women, even – would seize the day and the scrubbing brush and hang new curtains. Eleanor was not such a woman. New curtains would do nothing for her except cause great irritation. No, she realised … the adjustment to this new stage of life was not going to come from without. It was going to have to come from within. She was going to have to look at life quite differently; she was going to have to look at people, at types of people, she had never looked at before. She was going to have to — as a human being without the restful authenticity conferred by an acknowledged professional position — go out there and make friends — quite naked, as it were.’ (p.72)
‘Rose and Poppy shared a bedroom at the top of their house. It was a tall, thin house … and the girls’ room was the highest of all. Their father had painted a landscape round the walls — forests and a castle and jungle beasts and a unicorn — and a starry sky on the ceiling. When they were older, he said, he would replace the unicorn and the tigers with rock stars and cover the night sky with psychedelic patterns. Rose said what was psychedelic and Lucas said intoxicating and narcotic, and Rose said what was intoxicating and narcotic, and Lucas said drunk and drugged and both girls fell on the floor squealing and rolled their eyes.’ (pp.61-62)
‘Jules said nothing. She lay on the dirty carpet with her phone to her ear and her eyes closed and smiled. It didn’t matter. Two hundred quid didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. She had done two hours and she had done good.’ (p.93)
5. Lindsay feels she needs to apologise for Jules who ‘seemed to have inherited her parents’ taste for a wild and irresponsible life’ (p.13)
Were you surprised by Jules by the end of the book? Does she change, and if so, how and why?
6. Consider the various father figures in Friday Nights. Are there any ‘good fathers’? How do they compare to the mothers?
7. Does Eleanor’s lack of experience with men account for her level-headedness, or vice versa? Are sense and romance always mutually exclusive in Friday Nights?
8. ‘When it came to malevolence, Blaise thought, women were often the worst. Women could be both subtle and ingenious in their spite’ (p. 53)
Is Blaise proven right in the context of the novel? Do you agree with her?
9. Why does Jackson’s appearance on the scene cause such chaos? Does he create problems or just bring them to the surface? Ultimately, is he what everyone in the book needed?
10. ‘It was clear to Rose that this money thing was a burden to her mother but also that it gave her a kind of power’ (p.64)
How important is money in the book, both in terms of driving the plot and affecting the characters? Is it a force for good or bad, or both?
11. ‘Toby thought Eleanor liked being in her own house’ (p.22)
Who else needs their personal space in Friday Nights? Why does it matter so much?
12. Joanna Trollope has said that if she were asked to write a social code of conduct she would emphasise that with rights come responsibilities. Who carries the responsibilities in this book? And who enjoys the freest rights? What happens when the two don’t go hand in hand?
13. What did you make of Fiona’s arrival in the book? What are her motivations in helping Paula?
14. ‘[Eleanor] was going to have to – as a human being without the restful authenticity conferred by an acknowledged professional position – go out there and make friends – quite naked, as it were.’ (p.72)
Why naked? Consider the various ways that women dress themselves up in Friday Nights. What do they have to hide? Why is the ‘outward self’ (p.73) so important? Can it be misleading?
15. Work-life balance is a major theme in Friday Nights. Who gets it right?
16. Look at Eleanor and Paula’s phone conversation on pp.148-150 with particular reference to both women’s attitude, self expression and self confidence. Could each woman be considered representative of her generation? If so, how exactly? Why does Paula care what Eleanor thinks of her?
17. Joanna Trollope researched Friday Nights by going to nightclubs and talking to DJs. Does she pull it off?
18. ‘It was odd, Paula thought, how much more attracted she was to men with a sulphuric whiff of danger about them than to safe men’ (p.133)
Does Paula’s attitude surprise you? Why is she so much more attracted to ‘bad’ men, do you think?
19. Why does Karen think that life can leave the modern woman ‘inconsolable’ (p.221)? Does it have anything to do with the issue of ‘female entitlement’ that Eleanor identifies on p.311? Is ‘female entitlement’ at the heart of all the problems in Friday Nights? Why should some women prove more susceptible to it than others?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I always enjoyed all of Joanna Trollope's books but this one did not interest me. Too many characters and detail...was not inviting.
I am a big Trollope fan and have read most everything she's written in the past. This book is nowhere near as good as prior efforts. The characters seem like stereotypes and I had trouble really caring about what happened to them. Hope she gets back to her usual sterling form with her next novel.
Great Read as usual. I was not disappointed.
Even if Joanna Trollope wasn't a master at plot lines, which she is, I'd read her books just for her writing style. Her characters are so lifelike and believable they leap off the page. In fact, I'm going to re-read this book right now!
I didn't like the dialog, or lack of. There was no real conversations, but instead 1-word answers. I love all books just for the sake of reading but I couldn't wait for this one to be over. The characters were blah and ere was no depth or real story, certainly no climax. I would not recommend this book at all. Waste of my time.
This is the first time reading anything by this author. It was slow reading but it did pick up near the end. I felt sympathy for Paula's character. She had an out of control son and man who did't want to make any commitments. The other characters seem to bring the story full circle especially Elenor's character. She was the matriach of the group. All the women seemed to rely on her for advice.
The characters were all over the place, I found myself not liking any of them. The story jumped from one character to another with no transition. Very hard to Get into any of the plot lines. I wouldn't buy another book from this author.
One must like to think to enjoy this book The story is for women about women and our relationships. I took my time reading it and found it very fulfilling.
I found the story to be poignant character study of other characters. Made me want to know more.
Friday Nights was an okay book, good read, just jumps a lot to different characters.
a lovely read showing how friendships among women are constantly in flux - brings to mind the poem that says people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, when you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.
Six women befriend each other. They are of different ages and family situations. Friday nights become their meeting time to catch up on each others' lives -- getting to know each other better as time goes on. This was a good read, but not a great one. I've read a good number of Joanna Trollope's novels and have enjoyed them immensely, but I cannot really recomment this one wholeheartedly.
I really enjoyed this book...I had seen it in the store but purchased a couple of weeks ago when it was on Nook Daily Find.It was quite slow to start but once I got started I could not keep it down for very long. I do not read very much chick lit but this was very light and quite untrashy.Good read if you are up for it!
I thoroughly enjoy how Joanna Trollope develops all of the characters--- just as you're curious what one of them is doing, suddenly that character reappears. She is wonderful with descriptions. Eleanor is the solid base in the book. I like the way she thinks--probably J. Trollope is right inside Eleanor!
Eleanor befriends 2 young women she sees walking everyday with their children. They start meeting every Friday night. Eventually a few others join. During the Friday meetings they discuss life happenings and then one Friday Night meeting Paula asks to bring a male friend and everything changes. The story itself was not bad but I wish the author would not keep alternating between characters. For example 2 characters would be having a conservation and the author would automatically switch to 2 other characters. It was kind of hard to follow at times.
found it difficult to get into.
Friday Nights was a quick read. It was easy to get to know the characters and to form a relationship with them. Bittersweet-the way life is. I would like to read more from Joanna Trollope.
It's on sale for a reason.