When We Were Friends, Paperback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


This is an earlier version of this novel was published under the title a serpentine affair.

The addictive new novel from Tina Seskis, author of One Step Too Far.

It had always been the six of us. Since we met at university twenty-five years ago, we'd faced everything together.

Break-ups and marriages, motherhood and death. We were closer than sisters; the edges of our lives bled into each other.

But that was before the night of the reunion. The night of exposed secrets and jagged accusations.

The night when everything changed. And then we were five. Praise for Tina Seskis: "A gripping thriller that will delight fans of the unexpected twist ending." (Grazia). "Taut, compelling...a storming read." (The Bookseller Books of the Year 2013). "A remarkably good thriller...Open at page one and you will be in the safe hands of a brilliant new girl on the block." (hive.co.uk). "One Step Too Far is a genius tale with a twist." (Stylist).

Tina Seskis grew up in Hampshire, and worked for more than twenty years in marketing and advertising before turning her hand to writing. Her first novel, One Step Too Far was published in 2013, where it became an instant bestseller with over 100,000 copies sold in just four months.

The rights have since sold to fifteen publishers worldwide.

Tina lives in North London with her husband and son, where she writes full-time.

When We Were Friends is her second novel.




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What's it about?Six women who have remained friends since university meet up for a reunion. Tensions emerge, secrets are revealed, and by the end of the evening six has become five.The novel focuses on the relationships between the seven women and how these have been affected their choices in the succeeding twenty odd years.What's it like?Not quite what I expected. Seskis builds tension well in part one as the reunion - a picnic in Hyde Park - begins and underlying tensions are quickly established. Several women don't even want to attend the meet-up but are forcing themselves to go in the belief that the former strength of their friendships requires this sacrifice. So that bodes well. Not.Chapters switch between time frames but are only labelled with places, so readers have to pay attention to where each episode 'fits' in the women's shared history. As the reunion disintegrates into tears and arguments, Seskis repeatedly takes us back to the past and shows us how they reached this point, drip-feeding information so that we are constantly on the verge of multiple revelations. This works well, especially since there's no one story that monopolises your attention, so you're not impatiently flicking through the pages of one woman's story to reach another's.However, this breadth of viewpoint also means the reader doesn't really bond with any of the characters, or have a chance to fully appreciate their character. Most of them remain sketches, especially those who are given less narrative attention. This isn't really a problem; in fact, it's useful when it's revealed that one member of the group has been consistently underestimated by the others since their friendships started to drift apart.Friends and foesAt the heart of the novel is sadness that these friendships have drifted apart. Was it inevitable? Could things have turned out differently? Seskis shows how even at university the women are acutely aware of their differences, though at this point they are generous enough not to voice their real thoughts:'Renee's face hardened under her bleach-tinged fringe, which Juliette secretly thought looked odd against the black of the rest of her hair. She'd preferred it when it was all one colour.'The central idea seems to be that female friendships are just like that, underpinned by shared experience but wedged apart by unspoken criticism, disintegrating over the years as differences solidify. It's not a pretty picture, but then almost everyone in the novel is deeply unpleasant at least some of the time. An unethical door-to-door selling company puts the lives of students at risk; the two main husbands featured are both deeply immoral; the two main wives are disinterested wives and / or temperamental mothers, ignoring their husbands' needs, unable to meet their children's needs. At times, then, this is quite a depressing read, with a sense that past possibilities have shut down and the best years of their lives have been and gone.Minor notes Seskis tells us frequently how beautiful Juliette is. This got irritating...although in hindsight I think there might be a reason for this. We learn that Natasha's husband is having an affair with one of her "friends" - but in order to maintain secrecy there are awkward constructions like 'Natasha's old friend...' even as the adulterous couple are having sex. The same is true of scenes following the reunion. In order to hide which friend has disappeared, Seskis relies on constructions like 'she thought of how her friend had run off in hysterics', which feels so, so awkward when we're in their consciousness. As time moves forward at the end of the novel, we learn some developments in a very abrupt way which jolted me out of the narrative.Final thoughtsI think I judged this harshly when I first finished it. The characters were (mostly) unpleasant, their lives were awful (with one or two exceptions) and, most crucially, it wasn't quite what I'd expected. Perhaps this last point is why, as I've had time since to reflect on the book, I've realised that I really quite enjoyed it. Seskis does a superb job of capturing life: the way your past traps you in a defined role, the way your choices can feel like they weren't yours to make, the way friendships can shift to become a guilty burden rather than a vital support.It's not crime-y, even though there's a PI involved in the tale, but it is quite chilling in places, and might make you consider whether those friendships you've been clinging onto have become toxic. Could it be time to let the past go?