Lara Feigel’s first novel, The Group, is a fiercely intelligent, revealing novel about a group of female friends turning forty.
Who has children and who doesn’t? Whose marriages are working, whose aren’t, and who has embarked on completely different models of sexuality and relationships? Who has managed to fulfil their promise, whose life has foundered and what do they think about it, either way?
The Group takes its cue from Mary McCarthy’s frank, absorbing novel about a group of female graduates. The relations between men and women may be different now but, in the age of Me Too, they’re equally fraught.
This is an engrossing portrait of contemporary female life and friendship, and a thrillingly intimate and acute take on female character in an age that may or may not have been changed by feminism in its different strands.
‘A very funny and brilliant book. Feigel does a thorough and virtuosic job of describing the dilemmas of contemporary middle-class women’ Rachel Cusk
Not One I Identified With . . .
I wanted to like this novel – no, I wanted to love it, but in the end it was just okay.
This is the story of a group of female friends; these women have knows each other for a couple of decades and are now about to enter their forties. Men, children, careers are all important to them and at times some – or all – of these dominate their thoughts and actions, along with a kind of melancholy. At the time of the ‘me too’ movement, these women consider the wider implications of this and how it affects their own lives .. and so much more besides.
I struggled a bit with this one; it’s not the kind of lives that I’m familiar with. I wasn’t comfortable with the narrative which seemed to all come from one person but in retrospect. With no actual dialogue apart from he said or she said, I found myself wondering how Stella knew all this? That irritated me. There was a mention in the book of ‘middle-class problems’ and, for me, that is exactly what it’s all about. Most of the women I know don’t have the luxury of all the ‘me time’ that the characters had; I’ve only recently found time to meet up with girlfriends that I’ve kept in touch with but only seen intermittently over the years as we all were busy with our own lives. I suspect this is too highbrow for my liking; I’m pretty certain it will go on to be a bestseller and an award-winning novel, but it just doesn’t do it for me. Sadly, it’s a three star read.
My thanks to the publisher for my copy via NetGalley; this is – as always – my honest, original and unbiased review.
Tags: women’s literary fiction
- Format: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook
- Size: 336 pages
- Publisher: John Murray Press
- Publication Date: 11 June 2020
- Links: Goodreads
- Google Play
I grew up in London and studied English at Oxford University, going on to do an MA at University College London and a PhD at the University of Sussex. I have been teaching at King’s since 2008 and all my books have been in part the result of conversations with colleagues and students in the English department and the School of Arts and Humanities.
I am a writer and cultural historian teaching in the English department at King’s College London. I am fascinated by the relationship between life, literature and history and in my books I attempt to find new ways of writing that can allow the three to intertwine. Most recently, I have written a novel, The Group, which takes Mary McCarthy’s landmark 1963 novel as a model for thinking through contemporary women’s lives in twenty-first century London. My most recent non-fiction book Free Woman is an investigation of freedom that’s part memoir and part biography of Doris Lessing. I interweave life and literature to think about motherhood, sex, madness and communism, testing the gains and costs of living freely.
Before that I wrote The Bitter Taste of Victory, an account of the experiences of twenty of the British and American cultural figures sent in to Germany after the war, and The Love-charm of Bombs, which is about five writers in London in the Second World War. Both these books move fluidly between cultural and political history, collective biography and literary criticism while also attempting to create a narrative that unfolds with drama and suspense. Both books are set in war zones and I am intrigued by the way that war acts as a catalyst in transforming lives and creating art.
Since 2013, I have been the recipient of a generous European Research Council Starting Grant, which has brought a team of researchers into King’s for a project about culture in postwar Germany called Beyond Enemy Lines. I was also recently the beneficiary of an immensely supportive Philip Leverhulme Prize, awarded by the Leverhulme trust. At King’s I co-direct the Centre for Modern Literature and Culture and run the Ivan Juritz Prize, which celebrates creative experiment in all art forms.
I review regularly for various publications (most frequently the Guardian and the Observer) and have judged the Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Prize, the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize and the Observer/Anthony Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism. I also co-curated (with John-Paul Stonard) an exhibition, Melancholia. A Sebald Variation which featured previously unseen works by Tacita Dean and Anselm Kiefer.
I live in London and have an eight-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. I write at my desk in Kensal Rise, at the London Library and in Suffolk.