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Lissa is an actress who’s fed up of the grind. Cate’s a new mum who is lonely in her marriage. Hannah’s strenuous IVF journey has left her husband feeling shut out. Expectation follows Lissa, Cate and Hannah across the three decades they have been friends, charting their successes and failures, their rows and reconciliations. In any long relationship there are bound to be hurdles. Some of them prove surmountable for these three women. Some of them don’t.

The best thing about Expectation, the debut contemporary novel from actress/writer Anna Hope, is its honesty. All too often, fiction about female friendships goes to either side of the spectrum: either the women love each other so much that they’d never dream of falling out, or they are bitchy and catty and constantly at each other’s throats. Expectation is a lot more realistic. There’s an essential love between Lissa, Cate and Hannah that underpins everything. They enjoy spending time together; they care about what happens to one another.

But life is complicated, and so are relationships, especially when they span decades. Time takes a toll. Little annoyances can become big over the years; resentments can fester. Few obstacles are more difficult for a friendship than when someone gets easily what someone else is struggling so hard to achieve, like Cate’s new baby and Hannah’s torturous battle to become pregnant. Both women are aware of the awkwardness of the situation, and they try to ride it out, but some things are hard to overlook. That they can’t be honest with each other about how they really feel makes proper communication impossible. It’s perhaps the most relatable aspect of this book – not everyone will have been in that exact situation, and yet everyone knows what it’s like to not be able to say what you want to a friend for fear of hurting their feelings. It isn’t fun.

In addition to exploring these long-term bonds between women, Expectation also tackles what it’s like to deal with the disappointments of a life that hasn’t turned out how you’d planned. The teenage versions of Lissa, Cate and Hannah would never have expected they’d become the women they’ve become in their thirties – dull, drifting, lost. And over the course of the novel, they are each blind-sided by events they could have never anticipated. It’s hard to live a life without having expectations, but those expectations rarely become reality.

Anna Hope’s writing is sensual and evocative, deeply attuned to both the inner lives of the protagonists and their specific environments. Her descriptions pull you into a London as welcoming as it is lively; vibrant, bustling, teaming with people. The quieter spaces – the river behind Cate’s house, Lissa’s mother’s charming bohemian abode – are just as well drawn. It’s all a pleasure to read.

Expectation is a beautifully written tale about the ups and downs of female friendship. Truthful, vivid and absorbing, this is a novel which is easy to get lost in.

★★★★

Expectation is published by Doubleday on 11 July 2019

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