‘Last Christmas Sylvie was here, and this one she wasn’t—and now they were going to clear out the Bittoes house.’
Jude, Wendy, and Adele each make their separate ways from Sydney to the fictional beach community of Bittoes on the Central Coast to clean Sylvie’s beach house prior to its sale. Jude, a retired restaurant manager, will take charge. Wendy, a widowed intellectual with an unreliable car, brings her elderly dog Finn (although she knows Jude will disapprove). Adele, an actor whose most recent relationship has failed, will travel by train.
Each of the women, now in their seventies, brings memories – of the past, of their relationships, and of their friendship with each other. Each has concerns for the future: Wendy, widowed after a successful marriage, is particularly concerned about Finn (she can’t bring herself to say goodbye to him yet), Jude is looking forward to a private reunion with her lover once the weekend is over, and Adele worries about her future.
Over the course of the weekend, we learn more about each of the women, their relationships, and fears. The four-person friendship goes back forty or so years and seems to have centred around Sylvie. The house they are cleaning provides a perfect backdrop: the scene of many memories but now, bereft of its owner Sylvie, showing its age and deficiencies. Just like poor old Finn.
The novel explores the impact of life experience on each of the women: on the shared experiences that cement friendships, on the disappointments and secrets that can undermine them.
I enjoyed this novel for three main reasons. I liked the depiction of enduring friendship, and the overlap between three quite different lives. I can relate to the issues faced by ageing women. I loved Finn. Knowing when to say goodbye to an ageing companion is something I can relate to.