Then and Now – RJ Gould

I didn’t just ‘enjoy’ this book. I rapidly became mesmerised by it, lost in it, consumed to the extent that I couldn’t put it down and had to stay up all night to finish it, in order to find out what happened to the characters in whom I had become so utterly invested, inhabiting this timeless take on life, love, risks, wins and losses.

Reader, a cautionary tale. When I choose a book, especially from a new (to me) author, I am accustomed to initially consuming that book with my eyes. The old adage warns us about not judging a book by its cover, but that is exactly what I do and to be brutally honest, I find nothing appealing about this book’s cover. Fortunately I recalled reading a previous novel by RJ Gould ’Nothing Man’. I didn’t like that cover (in the same style as this one) either, but I was thankfully persuaded to read that tome, and I was so glad that I did, because I loved everything about the book including the storyline and the witty characters and I was truly glad that I had found the time to read the book. Talking of witticisms, this book did have moments of comedy, my favourite part being when Sandy is talking about Stuart and Schrödinger; about how intelligent Stuart is – not only can he link Schrödinger to a cat, but he can spell Schrödinger too!

The premise of this book, is a triumvirate – 3 diverse, yet seemingly successful friends – Sandy, Michael and Jonathan. They had the most tremendous friendship whilst at university, 50 years ago, until their harmony was wrecked by tragedy. As the book went into more detail about the past, it became apparent that the group was in actual fact a quadrumvirate originally; there ’WAS’ a fourth member of the friendship group, Stuart, but what on earth happened to him? Upon learning my first snippet about Stuart, I felt sure that his exit from the group and the subsequent demise of the whole alliance was not going to be a happy story.

When a university reunion is on the cards, can the trio circumvent what happened to break up their synergistic group so long ago, in order to be friends again? I know myself that what seems unsurmountable at a point in my life, may seem positively trivial, a couple of years down the line.

I liked the intelligent writing in the book – the way that some chapters filled us in on the current day, whilst conversely others reminisced about what once had been.

Sandy is on the eve of retiring from her successful fashion magazine editorship. She comes across as likeable and her success could be attributed to some extent to her fastidious organisational skills, which immediately seem apparent.

A look at Sandy’s formative years, see her behaviour mirroring that of her ’swinging’ parents, with sex, smoking and alcohol very much on the cards, despite doing well at school. Her parents seemed to be living in another world, happy to be hoodwinked by good ‘O’ level results.

Michael, having worked at the same climate change ‘think tank’ since university, strongly believes in the old school way of doing things and wants his colleagues to adhere to his impossibly high standards. He can’t possibly retire because he can’t trust those left behind to do things correctly.

Michael’s early years mark the advent of what would become a life long difficult relationship with his parents, his Father a career petty burglar and his Mother not much better. Major Kudos to Michael, for turning out to be the man he is, after their early years tutelage.

Jonathan’s children want him to end his relationship with his mistress; if only life were so easy. The same could be said about retiring from his fundraising consultancy business. Both tasks easier said than done.

Jonathan has always had a difficult relationship with his Sisters, so their nagging him to sort out his love lifen life. doesn’t auger well, how ever well meant their ’advice’ is intended.

Sandy, Michael and Jonathan did have one major thing in common – they had all excelled at school, so it came as no surprise that, at a time when the majority of 18 year olds didn’t automatically go on to university, these three most certainly did, and this nameless educational institution is where they became firm friends. I found each of the three main characters most likeable and I found the story infinitely compelling, the way that each of the friends had overcome their own form of adversity, in order to go to this university and make something of their lives.

As Sandy’s Granddaughter is preparing to go off to university, Sandy realises that it’s a full 50 years since she started her own course – since she met her group of friends, with whom she became inseparable – until the event that drove them apart. When Sandy receives an invitation in the post for a university reunion, has fate dealt an ace? Sandy’s thoughts turn to the reunion, but can anyone from her close friendship group from that time, face bringing up the elephant in the room that formed the catalyst that destroyed their friendship?

In my opinion, none of the three friends had been dealt a winning hand when it came to their formative years, yet all had gone on to having a successful professional career after university.

I found myself genuinely liking the three characters, but was intrigued by several questions; the most burning being:

  • The book mentions 4 friends; who is the fourth, and what happened to them?
  • What happened to tear the friendship group apart?
  • Does time really heal; can these people ever be close friends again?

You will of course have to read this intelligent, perceptive book for yourself, in order to find out exactly what happened.
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