Welcome back! I received a hard copy of this book all the way from America, so thank you so much to the author for taking the time to send me this book- and for giving me chance to read and review it!
‘West End Quartet’ is about four women who were all living together as part of a feminist commune during the 1980s. The book is made up of four novellas, with each novella following the story of one of the four women involved in the commune- or someone related to them (as with novella 4).
As the blurb says, the women are living in this commune in the ‘heyday of student activism’, a time in history which I find particularly interesting. The novellas mainly follow the women’s stories through adulthood and into modern day, showing how each woman changes and evolves with time.
I thought the best way to write this review would be to give a short overview of what happens in each novella, and then give my overall opinion of the book!
Novella 1: Mallory’s Point of View
The first novella was from Mallory’s point of view, and this one was set during the 1980s, when the four women were living in a Manhattan apartment together, fighting for ‘radical’ causes such as nuclear production and feminism.
At the beginning of the novella, Mallory has to face the decision of whether she should stay in Manhattan, fighting for causes with her female friends, or whether she should follow her mysterious boyfriend, Juan, to Nicaragua, where revolution is rife, and where she would have the chance to properly make a difference, teaching women to read and write and aiding the revolution.
Mallory takes the decision to go to Nicaragua (this isn’t really a spoiler as it happens relatively soon in her novella), and she encounters many problems while there, such as the differences between her middle class upbringing in London and the squalor in which she is forced to live in Nicaragua, as well as having no idea who she can trust in this angry and divided country.
I liked this novella a lot, as it showed the difference between middle class campaigning- campaigning from a distance- and real campaigning, where people are actually on the ground, getting involved in the revolution and putting themselves in harms way. I liked how the author showed Mallory’s internal struggle about this.
I also liked the setting of 1980s Nicaragua, and as a modern history lover, this setting and period in history is incredibly interesting to me. I didn’t know much about the Nicaraguan revolution when I started reading this book, so that was really interesting to learn about!
Novella 2: Mina’s Point of View
This novella was from Mina’s point of view, the youngest Group member and sister to Mallory’s boyfriend, Juan. When the novella follows Mina’s journey, it is 2001, and she is now a successful immigration lawyer with a dying husband and small child.
Throughout the novella it is clear that Mina is battling some strong emotions- as anyone with an ill husband would be- and her mental health is the focus of this novella.
The novella also focuses on the way in which Mina plans her life for after her husband’s death, feeling revitalised as she plans to open her own children’s bookshop, as well as helping a friend who no-one else will help out, giving her a link to her more radical past.
In this novella, Mina’s daughter (Skye) is just seven years old, and I liked how this section looked at Skye’s life before her father died, and then novella 4 looked at how Skye had changed once her father had passed away.
I liked this novella in part, as I thought that Mina’s struggles were very human and real, and the guilt, grief and depression she feels through the novella were very raw, and expressed real human emotion. I think that Aposotolou captured human emotion and struggles incredibly well throughout the whole book, in fact, and this was something I admired through the novel.
Novella 3: Gwen’s Point of View
This third novella follows the adult life of Gwen, another of member of Group from the 1980s who has just experienced the death of her father. Throughout this novella, set also in the early 2000s, Gwen reaches out to a childhood friend, Taylor, who she soon creates a secret relationship with.
Again, the emotions in this novella were incredibly raw, and I liked how the author showed how Gwen’s grief over the loss of her father led her towards contacting an old acquaintance, and throughout the book there was definitely the sense of the past and present uniting. This really became important at the very end of the whole book, when the four friends reunited in Greece and reunited their old selves with who they had become while apart
Novella 4: Skye’s Point of View
This novella was from the point of view of Skye, Mina’s daughter, and was set in Greece, where Kleio (the final member of Group) lived with her adopted daughter, Sophia. Skye was living with Kleio and her daughter after getting into trouble with the law and being sent to Greece by her mother, who was frustrated with her and with trying to juggle her own grief with the grief of her daughter.
Skye comes to Greece broken and with an awful attitude, shunning all those around her and clearly in a lot of pain. The novella follows her as she comes out of her shell, enjoying all Greece has to offer and dropping the ‘tough kid’ act, and towards the end of the novella (and book) all four Group members meet at Kleio’s house in Greece for a reunion.
I enjoyed this novella a lot, as I liked seeing how Skye transformed through the story, and how she became much more aware of the beauty around her.
I grew to like the character of Skye, and the friendship that grew between Skye and Sophia, Kleio’s daughter, was really lovely, and this book was definitely one of those that did not rely on romance, but instead focussed on the deep friendships and relationships between women!
I also really liked the point of view of Skye, and the use of a female, teenage point of view really drew me to her story.
Overall, I would say that I enjoyed this book. I loved the idea of the feminist commune, and the fact that 1980s America was so obsessed with the problem of ‘radicalism’ made me smile, and it makes me laugh how Americans saw feminism as a radical, dangerous idea.
“I explained that the FBI pays women to infiltrate communes like ours. It issues propaganda that feminism is socially subversive.”
However, I think that the book would have held my attention more if it had been about the lives of the women living in the feminist commune in the radical days of the 1980s, rather than only briefly mentioning the commune and then switching to the more modern-day setting.
I think, had the book done this, perhaps constantly switching between the perspectives of the women throughout the book, and then it had covered the way that the women’s lives had changed, I would have been more engaged with it.
Saying this, I am no author, and like I said, I still enjoyed the book how it was. I think one of the main reasons I would have preferred it written in this way was because, as a young adult, I found the novellas from the points of view of the students and teenagers much more interesting, and so by focussing on the commune of the 1980s, I think the book would have made for a more interesting read, for me personally.
Overall, although I was a bit disappointed with the lack of focus on the feminist commune of the 1980s, I still enjoyed this book. I loved the expression of female friendship in the novellas, and watching the female characters transform and evolve was a great aspect of this book.
“Empowered women empower those they love.”
This book was published by the small publishing co-operative, Five Directions Press. They aim to produce and showcase new authors, and you can learn more about what they do, and the books they’ve published, here. You can also talk to them on Twitter @fivedirspress.
Thank you again to the author for personally sending out a book to me. I am always grateful when authors send me copies of their books! When it arrived in the post, coming all the way from the United States, I got such a buzz! So thank you! 🙂
Have you read this book? Do you like the sound of it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!
Currently reading: ‘Vinegar Girl’ by Anne Tyler
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