Before Everything by Victoria Redel – review

Published by Sceptre

Publication date – 6 July 2017

Source – review copy

“Anna, Molly, Ming, Caroline, Helen: the Old Friends.

Since adopting their official name aged eleven, they have seen each other through careers, children, illnesses, marriage, divorce, addiction, fame, fall outs.

But now, Anna – fiercely loved mother and friend, and the Old Friends’ glue – is diagnosed with cancer again, and this time, tired of recoveries and relapses, pitying looks and exhausting regimes, she simply says: no more.

As her health declines, the politics of the still lived-in world merge with memories of the past while each Old Friend tries to accept the truth of what is happening: they are losing someone they cannot imagine life without.

Before Everything is a celebration of friendship and love between a group of wonderful women.

End of sixth grade they made it their official name. It was a joke one afternoon but they liked the way it sounded. Permanent. The Old Friends. This way, the five girls agree, it’s just a fact. And ours forever.”

Before cancer, before aging, before children, before marriage, before divorce they were friends. The Old Friends, forged before everything.

When Anna’s cancer returns the Old Friends gather at her house. Ostensibly to say goodbye, some are having a harder time accepting that Anna is no longer fighting the battle against the disease. As friends both old and ‘new’ come to visit we see how Anna has affected the lives of her many friends.

There is no doubt that this is a sad story, a book about dying is bound to be, but it is also filled with bright moments. Recalls of family holidays, dinner parties, kitchen gatherings with children running wild intersperse the darker memories. The reader is taken through the trials that each of the Old Friends has had to endure, trials which have solidified the relationship between the five friends.

There are no big moments in Before Everything. The story takes us back to occurrences that have stood out in the lives of the women, and bring us to the present day when they have to come to terms with the fact that the Old Friends are going to alter irrevocably.  It is an examination of grief. Helen, Ming, Caroline and Molly are all trying to come to terms with the impending loss of their friend. Their anger, despair, sadness and love is examined throughout. Some refuse to allow Anna to ‘give in’, willing her, almost begging her to fight, as she has before. There are those who have to deal with their jealousy of Anna’s friends, both old and new. Victoria Redel deals with all of these emotions in an understanding and real way. No one appears too unreasonable, too annoying or too selfish.

Whilst the story does inevitably focus on death it is also the study of life. Of how a person affects others, how incidents and interactions can change the course of a person’s live, or just brighten someone’s day.

A gently paced, reflective story about living and dying.

About the author

Victoria Redel was born in New York, and attended Dartmouth College and Columbia University. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines including Granta, Harvard Review, Elle and The New York Times, and she currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. Her debut novel, Loverboy, was adapted for a feature film directed by Kevin Bacon. Before Everything is her first novel to be published in the UK.

This was book 8 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Great minds think alike – I had noted Victoria Redel’s name for possibly inviting her in future as a guest instructor to the Geneva Writers’ Group, since she is equally comfortable in fiction and poetry. So I was very interested to hear your thoughts on this novel (which I haven’t read yet).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It’s one that grew on me. It could have been maudlin but managed to keep away from that. I hope you like it if you read it 🙂


  2. One of my favourite books of the year so far. Gorgeous writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It was interesting to read. For some reason a few books I’ve read have been about grief or death and it’s interesting to see how every handles it.


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