Finding Men a Challenge? Join the Club; Rumpled Sheets: Joanna Trollope on the Male Threat to Female Friendships

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Byline: Val Hennessy

FRIDAY NIGHT'S BY JOANNA TROLLOPE (BLOOMSBURY, [pounds sterling]18.99) THE latest novelfrom bestselling author Joanna Trollope has female friendship and loneliness asits twin themes. The setting is a residential street in London's Fulham, wherefeisty 70-year-old Eleanor starts a sort of Friday night 'at home' club.

Gazing from her window, she has noticed two lonesome-looking young womenregularly struggling to the shops with small children, obviously frazzled,unhappy and probably single mothers.

She decides to invite them in, introduce them to each other and involve herselfin their lives. Initial awkwardness leads to a sisterly solidarity and thegroup expands to include a whizz-kid career woman and an unconvincing youngdrop-out type who dosses on people's floors, eats junk food and plans to becomea club DJ.

Once you have managed to remember which character is whichEleanor, Paula, Karen, Lindsay, Jules, Blaize, plus various children, onehusband, one dead husband, one biological (but married elsewhere) father, notto mention flashback characters, two boyfriends and a stereotypical gay malework colleagueyou are plunged into the minutiae of the domestic and workplace tensions thatbedevil the lives of modern, multi-tasking women.

Interestingly, the only married member of the sisterhood, juggling motherhood,career and a non-earning, tormented artist husband, seems to have a toughertime than the singletons. The toughest time of all, however, is had by thevarious childrenvulnerable little appendages who struggle to make sense of the shiftingliaisons and loyalties of the adult world.

BUT it is Paula, with a trendy loft apartment and financial support from Gavin(a married man and father of her child), who puts the cat among the pigeons.

Having concluded that Gavin is 'less of a true and great love and more a wasteof space', she meets hunky, enigmatic computer entrepreneur Jackson who has 'asulphurous whiff of danger' about him and drives a silver Mercedes with leatherseats.

Suddenly, Paula's life is all bottles of Beaujolais and rumpled sheets. And shegoes down two dress sizes and starts wearing stiletto-heeled boots.

Eager for approval, she invites Jackson to the Friday circle and all hellin fairly muted Trollopian style is gradually let loose.

Jackson ingratiates himself with Join everybody, in particular with Joanna'ssmall son, and I, frankly, was shocked to the core when, in this age ofpaedophile hysteria, besotted Joanna allows her boy to go off to a footballmatch alone with the creepy guy. …