Book review: A Time for Friends

EVERY friendship has its share of give and take. 

Patricia Scanlan

Simon & Schuster , €20

Problems manifest when one side gives their all and the other brings nothing to the party. 

In Patricia Scanlan’s latest novel, we meet two polar opposites thrown together in childhood who fall into a friendship based on the shakiest foundations, which nonetheless drags on through the decades.

Hilary Hammond is the giver and she takes care of everybody, including spoilt Colette O’Mahony. 

As a youngster Hilary is urged by her mother to befriend only child Colette, who is showered with gifts but largely ignored by her jet-setting parents. 

Hilary is initially not keen but she does as her mother asks, and Colette, who overhears her reluctance, always feels a touch of resentment that she wasn’t really wanted in the first place.

The two grow up and their lives take very different paths. 

Colette marries a high-flier and gets caught up in a world of fast cars and fancy holidays but she never seems content or manages to shake off her jealous, resentful nature. 

Colette’s childhood had everything except the time and attention she craved from her parents, and it’s a legacy she finds difficult to shake off now that she is a mother herself. 

Hilary’s life is far from perfect — she finds juggling a husband, career, and children as difficult as any woman trying to ‘have it all’ — but her fighting spirit and good nature get her through.

The status quo of the friendship is threatened when Hilary makes a new friend in the form of the irrepressible Jonathan Harper. 

Jonathan, who is gay, has his own demons. 

He was abused as a boy by an ageing neighbour, but he proves a valuable new friend to Hilary as well as a savvy business partner. The two form a rock steady bond — and Colette is far from impressed.

Hilary is caught between a rock and a hard place as her two friends fail to see eye to eye on anything. 

Jonathan thinks Colette is a user and she is jealous of his increasingly important role in Hilary’s life. 

After their first encounter Colette thinks he’s a ‘pushy upstart’, while he thinks she’s ‘a snobby little diva’.

A Time for Friends takes us through the decades, from the recession of the 80s, through to the boom of the noughties, and the subsequent crash that left the entire country running for cover.

As the years go by, each of the three are faced with tough decisions but Colette continues to test Hilary. 

There are fallings out and periods of no communication but somehow Hilary always takes her friend back into the fold against the advice of her husband, Jonathan, and anyone else who fails to see what the attraction is.

But there’s only so far friendship will go — and Hilary has to decide whether it’s time to call time on the friendship once and for all when faced with the ultimate betrayal.

Scanlan is not afraid to take on thorny issues like abuse. 

Jonathan, who battles to overcome the shame, disgust and self-loathing he feels as a result of his damaged childhood, was abused at the hands of a family friend but the issue of clerical abuse is also raised through a priest he meets at his abuser’s graveside.

She also has a good dig at the bankers, the high-fliers, the property developers, and all the duckers and divers of the boom that facilitated Ireland’s latest fallout — and is particularly scathing of Anglo executives. 

The book does exactly what it is says on the tin — a warm, fuzzy, engaging read.

The storyline is intriguing enough to draw readers in and keep them engaged — mostly to see if Colette gets her comeuppance and if Jonathan gets his happy ending. 

It’s a little long and there’s a bit of a mad dash at the end to tie up the loose ends, but as good reliable chick lit goes, Scanlan delivers just what her readers ordered.


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