The Group | Lara Feigel

Lara Feigel is a writer, critic and cultural historian teaching in the English department at King’s College London and is the author non-fiction books including The Love-Charm of Bombs, The Bitter Taste of Victory and Free Woman. The Group is her first attempt at writing fiction. Given Feigel’s background it makes perfect sense that she used a ground-breaking and controversial novel as inspiration. Mary McCarthy’s The Group was published in 1963 and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for two years and described the lives of four colleague graduates in 1933.

Knowing this, I wish I could have read the original before I attempted to read Feigel’s version. Maybe I would have a better understanding of what she tried to portray. According to Wikipedia Mary McCarthy’s version is described as follows:

“Each character struggles with different issues, including sexism in the work place, child-rearing, financial difficulties, family crises, and sexual relationships. Nearly all the women’s issues involve the men in their lives: fathers, employers, lovers, or husbands. As highly educated women from affluent backgrounds, they must strive for autonomy and independence in a time when a woman’s role is still largely restricted to marriage and childbirth.”

Almost sixty years later, Feigel’s novel addresses the same issues. The most unsettling observation about this is that little has changed. The primary focus of the latest version is the ability or lack of having a child. All these women’s lives revolve around their children despite the fact that they are educated and seemingly liberal if the amount of affairs and sex they’re having is anything to go by. Kay regrets having children and struggles raising her two with little assistance from her husband, Harald; Stella is sharing responsibilities with her ex-husband and Priss is frustrated by her predictable home-life. Polly, a gynaecologist feels the growing need to have children, but no-one to father them with and Helena decides to have a child with her gay friend and colleague. Add to the mix each woman’s relationship with the men in their lives and you have an extensive, detailed and drawn-out depiction of a group of friends’ lives in our current time.

“She has no life. It has all been taken away from her by him, in his insistent need for these children that she never actively wanted.”

But here’s the thing – you would expect to will identify with these women. The issues being addressed are universal, whether it’s sex, child-rearing responsibilities of relationships. Instead The Group leaves you cold. It’s practically impossible to feel sympathy for any of them. This is partly due to their selfish nature and to the style in which the book is narrated, cold and clinical. It reads like a report of every character’s life – their thoughts and actions rendered in detail to such an extent that it seems to go on forever without any momentum or potential climax or resolution. The lack of dialogue adds to this detachment.

The monotony and disconnection from the characters can be largely blamed on the narrative style. Stella acts as narrator, but the way in which she is the voice-over of her friends’ lives ultimately feels cruel and voyeuristic. It also means we never hear the voices of the other characters, just what Stella tells us they think or feel. The observational style could be effective for parts of a novel, but after a while it gets difficult to digest. This might be intentional, but it does not make for easy reading.

Current issues like #metoo and the immigrant crisis are mentioned, but it doesn’t integrate properly with the story and is merely mentioned in passing as an add-on instead as a thread running through. Even though Vince, Stella’s boss, and his sexual predatory actions are mentioned throughout, it doesn’t ring true.

In the end The Group tells a grim and unsettling story of a group of self-indulgent women who are frustrated by their life choices and even more critical of those of their friends. If you need a feel-good story about female relationships, this is not it – on the contrary, you will be left disillusioned. The group of women are solely bound by their history, nothing more and it shows.

The Group is published by Hachette and they kindly provided me with a review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Plot summary:

Lara Feigel’s first novel, The Group, is a fiercely intelligent, revealing novel about a group of female friends turning forty. Who has children and who doesn’t? Whose marriages are working, whose aren’t, and who has embarked on completely different models of sexuality and relationships? Who has managed to fulfil their promise, whose life has foundered and what do they think about it, either way?

The Group takes its cue from Mary McCarthy’s frank, absorbing novel about a group of female graduates. The relations between men and women may be different now but, in the age of Me Too, they’re equally fraught. This is an engrossing portrait of contemporary female life and friendship, and a thrillingly intimate and acute take on female character in an age that may or may not have been changed by feminism in its different strands.

The Corpse with the Crystal Skull | Cathy Ace

The ninth adventure in the Cait Morgan series, The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, sees the Welsh-Canadian criminology professor heading to Jamaica with her husband and friends for her 50th birthday celebrations. As you probably already know, whether it’s a small English village or an island in the Caribbean, whenever a sleuth turns up somewhere in a cosy mystery bodies start piling up.

Read the full review of this review on the Crime Fiction Lover website.

Plot summary:

Welsh Canadian globetrotting sleuth, and professor of criminal psychology, Cait Morgan, is supposed to be “celebrating” her fiftieth birthday in Jamaica with her ex-cop husband Bud Anderson. But when the body of the luxury estate’s owner is discovered locked inside an inaccessible tower, Cait and her fellow guests must work out who might have killed him – even if his murder seems impossible. Could the death of the man who hosted parties in the 1960s attended by Ian Fleming and Noël Coward be somehow linked to treasure the legendary Captain Henry Morgan might have buried at the estate? Or to the mission Bud and his secret service colleagues have been sent to the island to undertake?

You can read more about this award-winning author of traditional whodunnit Cait Morgan Mysteries on her website.

Cold Malice | Quentin Bates

It’s been less than two years since we’ve heard from Officer Gunnhildur Gisladottir of the Serious Crime Unit in Reykjavik. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. On average, Quentin Bates has written a novel almost annually since 2011. Considering he also translates Ragnar Jonasson and Lilja Sigurdardottir’s books, Bates, much like an Icelandic winter, is a force to be reckoned with, albeit a humble and kind one.

Cold Malice is the seventh in the Gunnhildur series, which began with Frozen Out, and Gunna hasn’t lost her straight-shooting, no-nonsense approach to life or solving crimes. Read the full review on the Crime Fiction Lover website.

Cold Malice is published Constable, a Little Brown imprint.

About the author:

Quentin Bates is an English novelist of mystery/crime fiction novels. Quentin found himself working in Iceland for a year, which turned into a decade, and has used some of that experience as well as a university writing course to develop his Gunnhildur series. More about Quentin on his own website.