In the prologue we begin with the text that Suzie finds in Alex’ trousers (which are on the floor while he is in the shower) and find out where they are in their relationship. Pippa’s begins with the moment she met Alex. In the prologue, Alex’ emails to his twin Guy infer – they leave out more than they say.
We follow the three main characters through their lives from June 2009 to Christmas Eve 2010 which encompasses family celebrations, redundancy, home moves and family life – as well as the inter-connected relationships.
Throughout the story the three main characters perspectives are told in alternating chapters. Suzie’s is a straight-forward narration. We hear Pippa’s perspective in a letter she is writing to her mum (we find out later on why she is writing to her mum). Alex’ perspective is told in emails that he writes to his Fox siblings. This gives the story uniqueness.
The reader finds out things in one narrative and the missing information is filled in during the next characters chapter … so having already made judgements, with the new information, you have to make adjustments to your thoughts– I loved this!
The Fox family are a close clan and they play a large part in this tangled web. It’s at the parents golden wedding anniversary that we meet Suzie’s old school nemesis ‘Heinous’ who has moved to Random-on-Sea. Random-on-Sea is a key place in the story. Suzie’s family background is best described in her narration on page 44:
“Anyway, the point is that this new fractured family reconfiguration may have turned out to be a triangle – and a pretty good triangle – but because it was more isosceles than equilateral it was just not my triangle of choice.”
Pippa is close friends with Lisa. Lisa is the partner of Alex’ twin Guy. Alex first meets her at their home. Lisa owns a shop and it is while Suzie is buying an outfit while Pippa is covering in the shop that she overhears a phone conversation and tells Lisa who tells Guy who tells Alex … but the reader finds out that Suzie’s phone conversation was a voicemail message she left on Alex’ mobile. In Suzie’s narrative the inference is that even though things have smoothed over for now, the future holds a different story and the reader is carried along with the events making predictions.
How each strand weaves into the other and ties up at the end is a very strong plot. I didn’t work out how the events were a part of the whole, which is another thing I enjoyed.
The characters are so well written with depth to their personalities – and just as with the plot, there are layers underneath a layer as there is in real life! I was continually adjusting how I felt about each character – including those on the periphery.
Separate Lives is a debut novel about contemporary relationships. There is humour and there is sadness, there is belonging and there is alienation. This is a book I recommend you make time for in your reading schedule.
I read this book as part of Real Readers programme.