“Clover Jones and Laura Dangerfield have been best friends since their children were born. Along with Clover’s stylish, powerful friend, Alice, they share holidays, sleepovers, school runs and childcare. They’re like one big family. But all families have their secrets. When the children leave home, Clover and Laura’s lives and marriages change forever, and the old rules on love and loyalty no longer apply. And when Alice decides she wants what they’ve got, Clover and Laura have to find out who they really are. Without the children, can their marriages – and friendship – survive?”
During the first five pages of this book I was sure I wouldn’t take to it – the kids seemed to be the story, rather than the parents – but as I kept reading I found myself completely drawn in, becoming wrapped up in the relationships between the three main women – Laura, Clover and Alice; three very strong, distinct characters, none of whom mince their words. Their world of easy camaraderie, lift sharing and parental duties becomes convoluted when their children all leave for university and their different career choices – ex-part time art assistant Clover, ex-actor Laura and successful business owner Alice – highlight each other’s shortcomings. The novel is narrated by Clover and Laura; interestingly, we never hear Alice’s side of the story; her absenteeism is more markedly so because of this.
Despite the many different interesting plot threads that Nina Bell weaves – the big ‘C’, a relationship between two of the kids, an affair – I found myself hooked on the women’s friendships, which is something I suspect many female readers are drawn to most strongly because they can relate so closely to the relationship dynamic between Clover and Alice. It’s perhaps an indication of my growing age that I begun to find the children largely irrelevant to the story (despite them being the cornerstone of The Empty Nesters) compared to the women. Clover, with her new, post-children-leaving decorating job, delivers a tense ultimatum to her husband George, who has gone into business with now firmly ex-friend Alice – and Laura is keeping a big secret from cancer-ridden husband Tim, whilst dealing with her son’s failure to make it as a lawyer and shouldering her own career regret.
Nina Bell wraps up everything cleverly and neatly; rather than using a lazy and-everything-turned-out-fine ending she leaves the characters finally happy and settled without their children determining their daily routines, but definitely wiser and battle-scarred from the decisions that still perhaps haunt them. With a colourful, well-crafted bunch of characters that will reach out to each reader in some way and the lovely sense of place we get from Nina’s descriptions of the surroundings, The Empty Nesters will tug at you in some way, even if you can only relate to a small amount of the story. A childless twentysomething myself, I found myself already wondering about what my life would be like when my children leave home. A powerful book indeed.
Many thanks to Sphere for the review copy.