The friends who give this novel its title are very different in background. Indeed, as Fay Weldon shows in one of her flashbacks, it was only chance that brought them together during the evacuation of London during World War II. Edwin and Esther Songford, the parents of Grace Songford, have taken their only child to the Ulden station so that they can choose a London refugee to live with them. Much to the relief of the residents of Ulden, a rural village, the train which stops, by mistake, is loaded with children from the West End, rather than the appalling East End slum children whom they had expected. Perhaps from compassion, perhaps from a desire to spite her parents, Grace picks the unappealing Marjorie to take home with them. The third member of the trio, Chloe Evans Rudore, arrives in Ulden with her widowed mother, Gwyneth Evans, who then settles in as a maid-of-all-work at the Rose and Crown, while Chloe spends as much time as possible with Marjorie and Grace. Thus, the lifelong friendship is forged, linking Chloe, the humble, downtrodden servant’s daughter; Grace, the child of an arrogant, cashiered officer and a browbeaten, motherly woman; and Marjorie, whose parents are a Jewish intellectual and a selfish socialite, the first at war, the second too busy adventuring to concern herself about her child.
The novel follows a psychological rather than chronological order. Beginning with a typical scene between Chloe and her husband, Oliver Rudore, in which he exerts his authority over his wife-even to the extent of justifying his regular nights with the French maid-Weldon then follows Chloe to London meetings with her friends, to recollections of their past experiences and past conversations, and back to her present home with Oliver and various children. Sometimes, the omniscient author reports a scene, often in dialogue, and occasionally she penetrates the consciousness of Marjorie or Grace; since the friends impart their feelings so fully to one another, however, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the thoughts which Weldon details represent only an internal reflection or an observation by one friend remembered by others. In any case, past events and past causes of present behavior are gradually revealed to the reader, so that at the end of the novel, no motivation is unclear; the three female friends are fully...
(The entire section is 956 words.)