Expectation by Anna Hope was one of those books I felt an instant connection to. It is one of the most refreshingly honest novels I have read in a long time – an exquisite view of womanhood and female friendships that is at once beautifully tender and painfully raw.
It tells the story of friends Hannah, Cate and Lissa – the lives they live when they are young, the promise and expectation for their futures, and the reality that their lives become. When we first meet them at the beginning of the novel, it is 2004 and they are living together in East London, spending long sunny days on London Fields, with what feels like their whole lives ahead of them. The book then jumps forward and we see what life is now for Hannah, Cate and Lissa.
For each of them, life is not quite as they imagined: Lissa has been focusing on her career as an actor, but is struggling to find success; Hannah desperately wants a child, but it seems that it might not be her fate; and Cate, who has a child, is finding motherhood less fulfilling than she had expected. I found each of these women’s stories so captivating, and I felt so very deeply for all three women. The other people around them (partners, friends, family) are also well drawn characters, which is needed to fully understand these women’s desires, aspirations and relationships. I liked that we were not without empathy for these characters – including the male characters. But this is not their story, and I loved how firmly these three friends were placed at the centre of this novel.
The structure of this book shows us the liminal state that the women are caught in – between what they thought life had in store for them, and the reality they are now facing. The book is made up of several sections, each headed with a passage looking back on their past lives. As these reflections on the past are short, narrated in the third person, and written so beautifully, they felt almost like photographs – moments in time captured visually, or in our memories. For me, they capture exactly the hazy, nostalgic glow of the past.
Each of these sections is followed by first person narratives from the three women in their present lives – I liked that the narrators didn’t follow a particular order, but we heard from whoever’s story fitted with the theme introduced in the opening section. I did find I was jumping back and forth in my copy, trying to piece some of the timelines together – but this was simply because I wanted to eek out every single thing I possibly could from this reading (I knew even while I was reading it, that this was going to be a book I read again and again).
Anna Hope touches on so many important themes in this book, all through a female-focused eye. We hear about motherhood, from both mothers and daughters across different generations. The women in the novel reflect on their female bodies that are at once both strong and precarious: capable of bringing new life into this world and full of sexual power, but also vulnerable and subject to aging. Aging itself is explored, where the story of Lissa’s mother Sarah plays a central role. We also see glimpses of politics and activism, again particularly through Sarah’s reflections on the experiences of her youth.
Female desire is present – another important topic often skirted round. Female friendships are the novel’s heart and soul. The connections made between women run deep and weather the twists and turns of time (this is actually how I feel about the connection I have made this with novel). None of these themes felt at all forced, or pointed – they all naturally feed into this bigger picture of both the expectation and reality of what it means to be a woman.
I definitely left a piece of my heart in the pages of this book when I finished it. Coming to it now, in my late 20s, I feel I am myself in a bit of a liminal state, somewhere between the two decades of life in which we mainly see these characters. I will certainly be returning to this book in five, ten years’ time, to see what it has to say to me about womanhood then. It may even be painful to read (depending on what life has thrown at me in the meantime). But the honesty and truth found in Expectation feels immensely important to hold onto, for a long time to come.
Expectation publishes on 11th July with Doubleday. Thank you to Alison Barrow and Hannah Bright at the Publisher, for sending me a proof of the book, in exchange for an honest review.
Have a lovely day, book lovers!
Sophie @Sophie_Jo_Books 📚🐾