The Art of Unpacking Your Life By Shireen Jilla.
Bloomsbury Reader|March 2015| 316 pages| ISBN: 9781448215201
Connie invites her university friends on a trip to the Kalahari to celebrate her fortieth birthday. The story mostly centers on Connie. The other friends have side-stories. The novel is a sharp and rich depiction of college friends in later life. “They had been close at university, but their friendship had drifted as their lives had taken them in different directions.” Do they have the same bonds as they did at 20 that they have now not seeing each other daily? Over several days in a vast environment thousands of miles away from their comfort zone and homes, the group reveals secrets and encounters surprising challenges.
Connie’s four children [“No one had four children anymore.”] are in secondary school and her politician husband Julian continues to have affairs. His latest dalliance might break them up forever despite the family and image to uphold. For years after every affair, Connie stands by her man. Sara is a single, strong barrister who just completed a major case in London and prefers to keep men at arm’s length to avoid any emotional entanglements. “There was something fundamentally wrong with the men she dated. Too talkative, too vain, too stupid, too nasal, too egotistical.” Lizzie isn’t quite sure what to do personally or professionally. “Nothing measured up to their time together at Bristol University for Lizzie. She hadn’t moved on.” Lizzie “didn’t have a man, or own her own flat and her career was going nowhere.” The recently divorced Luke, Connie’s college boyfriend is on the trip. Is there still something between them? Should they have remained together all along? Matt shares the news that he and his American wife Katherine [“She was fragile and feminine compared with his English women friends.”] used a surrogate for the baby they’re expecting after years of IVF treatment. Dan isn’t happy in his relationship with a younger, not-too-serious boyfriend Alan. “The group never believed that Alan was good enough for Dan.”
Jilla writes splendidly about the bold wildlife and African landscape— “A wide, wild range of beautiful, even rare and endangered, species would be waking up in this safe haven, magically far away from the destructive nature of the human world. All because of her grandfather’s understanding and commitment.” It’s refreshing to read about adults who may still be figuring things out. The superb writing and multifaceted characters draw you in from the beginning and keep you riveted throughout the novel.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley.
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