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Surrey, United Kingdom

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Group by Mary McCarthy

This book had been sitting on my shelf since I stumbled across it in a charity shop about a year ago.  I think it had been re-issued a couple of months previously and there was a good deal of buzz about it.  As with so many books that I pick up second-hand I didn't get around to reading it straight away and then it got forgotten as other more demanding books took my fancy.

When I noticed a couple of weeks ago my enthusiasm for it had completely waned.  It was only because I had just finished Lucy Moore's wonderful Biography of the Roaring Twenties: Anything Goes that I was considering reading it.  But if there is one thing I have learnt over my years of reading it is that just because a book doesn't feel like the right book to read at the moment doesn't mean that you won't enjoy it and be proved utterly wrong.  And so it was with The Group.  I'm not sure how, but I had the impression that this was a non-fiction book.  That was my first eyebrow-raising moment.  Second was the joy of Candace Bushnell's introduction.  If I had previously doubted whether I wanted to read the book or not I had completely changed my mind by the end of the Introduction.  Candace describes it as a book that her Mother had recommended to her as a teenager.  At that age she had not enjoyed it and I think therein lies the secret of this book.  The story, of a group of girl-friends from Vassar college, follows the girls as they make their way in the big, bad world outside of college.  They all have hopes, dreams and expectations, just like young women today, and they none of them quite know what life will throw at them.  Suffice to say that within the group they all suffer, they all gain and they all show strength and resilience in the face of challenges and disappointments.  Their story is timeless.  OK, so the specifics may have changed, but the central theme of the story is that we cannot predict how life will turn out... and that's not a bad thing.  My only criticism of the book is that it could have told me more.  I had grown to love these women, for all their idiosyncrasies and flaws.  They reminded me of friends, acquaintances and colleagues and their stories were all ones I had seen play out in real life, and for that reason I understand why it might not appeal to younger readers.  It is the mirror it holds up to our own lives (and those of our friends) that make it such an intriguing and genuinely touching read.


  1. I read The Group years ago, and my reaction was just the same as yours. I am so pleaded that Virago has added the book to its list, and I really must time for a re-read one of these days.

  2. Really good review. I have wanted to read this since Virago re-published it a little while back. I bought a second hand copy earlier this year and your review is making me want to dig it out!