By Becky Gulc
Described as writing 'fiction that gets beneath the skin of family dynamics,' "The Empty Nesters" is Nina Bell’s fourth novel. "The Empty Nesters" explores how a series of friendships and relationships progress and become re-defined when the 'children' who have cemented their relationships (perhaps more than they ever realised) for as long as they can remember leave school and head off to university. Will the bonds still exist? What will some of the parents do when they are no longer 'needed' at home?
To be honest, I don’t think this would be a book I would have chosen myself as I didn’t necessarily feel I’d relate to the core characters who are all in their fifties, I’m not yet a parent so I also wondered how I would warm to the central focus on the impact of the ‘empty nest’. What I did like about this book from the beginning is that I knew it would be different to many of the 'chick lit' books I’ve read recently and I welcomed what sounded like a sophisticated examination of a range of relationship dynamics.
The book focuses on Clover Jones and Laura Dangerfield – best friends ever since their children were born; both married, both not quite happy. Much of the book is written from their viewpoints. Along with Clover’s 'powerful' and single-parent friend, Alice, the families have shared their lives, their childcare, their holidays, their parties, even their DIY for as long as they can now remember! Clover and Laura are both stay at home Mums, so they are hit hard when their nests suddenly become empty, exposing a range of relationship and personal issues that have been glossed over for too long. Without wanting to give anything away, the core relationships and friendships are all tested within this book using different plots and twists and turns along the way which keeps the reader guessing right up until the end. You really don’t know what relationships will survive, either through adultery, ill health, possessiveness or simply taking someone for granted.
It took me until I was about halfway through the book to really get into it. To begin with, I just found that there were too many characters and names to remember and I was quickly forgetting whose children belonged to whom. I would have found it easier if the number of friends referred to outside the core characters was kept to a minimum, really. I also felt like too much of the story was being told through character dialogue within the first stages of the book, to the point of not appearing like natural conversation between partners or friends. There is obviously background information we need to know as readers but I felt this could maybe have been conveyed through internal dialogue a bit more.
On a positive note, I found the second half of the book much stronger, and I really did look forward to picking it up each night and seeing where it was going to take me next. There are a couple of story lines in the book that really keep you intrigued and guessing right until the end which I enjoyed, and as a reader I felt satisfied with the outcomes, which is always a plus! I also felt in the second half of the book, it was much more clear to whose viewpoint I was seeing. And as I delved much more into the minds of Clover and Laura and their internal reflections, it made me warm to each of them much more throughout the remainder of the book.
Overall I enjoyed this book and would recommend it if you fancy reading something that’s thought-provoking. It’s a great book about friendships and how they can change over time and sometimes never be what you thought they were, but sometimes be deeper than you ever considered. Despite wondering whether I would relate to the characters and the plot, this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book at all, and in fact added to it as it felt almost like a breath of fresh air.