The Women of Primrose Square: a story of beautiful characterisation

What is this about?: Frank, Emily and Miss Hardcastle are at a crossroads in their lives for different reasons, but they’re in one familiar boat: they’re at odds with their families in a number of ways. and of all things they never expected to be turning to each other for support.

What else is this about?: Coming to terms with who you are and your mistakes — but it is also about standing up for yourself and what you want in the same breath. This book, guys, this book is such a joy.

Blurb

When Frank Woods at number seventy-nine Primrose Square comes home to a surprise birthday party thrown by his wife and adoring children, it is his guests who get the real surprise.

Finding himself alone, he befriends the cantankerous Miss Hardcastle, who hasn’t left her home for decades, and Emily Dunne – fresh out of rehab and desperate to make amends.

As gossip spreads through Primrose Square, every relationship is tested, and nothing in this close-knit community will ever be the same again . . .

I didn’t expect to adore this The Women of Primrose Square as much as I did, and while it is not without flaws, this is a feel-good, tearing up on the bus 5-star read.

Frank is dependable, he is loved by his family, but he is also wallpaper, and whether he is at work or at home, he is taken for granted. On the day of his 50th, he makes a choice that blows up in his face the minute he walks through the door to be faced with everyone that ignored him all day on his birthday there for his surprise party… and all eyes are on him.

Emily is a recovering alcoholic, who has been disowned by her family for basically drinking her parents’ house away. Freshly out of rehab she is bitter, and doesn’t quite know what to do with herself until her AA sponsor, Leon, starts her on the 12 step program that includes making amends with everyone she’s hurt. It’s then that Emily starts to see and acknowledge the hurt she’s caused and begins to want to try, properly, to make amends.

Violet Hardcastle is a hardcase. She has lived on the Square for decades, and everyone knows her and everyone hates her. She’s the woman who’ll write scathing letters to everyone that she can view from her window messing up the square or daring to darken her front door — like Ben, Frank’s son, who knocked on her door when he was eight for Halloween candy, earning his parents a scathing letter from Violet about how his knocking scratched the paint on the door.

However, there’s a fourth woman, Grace, who is Frank’s wife. And while she may not be on the cover, she’s worth a mention because his story can’t be told without her.

Frank 

I’m not going to say the decision Frank made on his birthday, but I will say it breaks his family apart.  It’s probably not what you think though.

He moves into Violet’s house as a lodger, to remain close to his family while he makes decisions about his future, and Grace is left trying to figure out how her family broke apart in one night, and how she never really knew her husband. It’s all going to sound like he’s having an affair, but he’s not.

Frank loves Grace, he really does. But he’s spent a lifetime hiding who he is and his birthday party forces him to own up to what he wants. In a life being the perfect someone for everyone else, that’s a revelation for Frank, and it scares the crap out of him because it could cost him his family. Together, he and Grace try to navigate this new world he’s thrust them into without ever asking her.

That’s the beauty of this book — I was firmly Team Frank, because Carroll beautifully portrayed someone delighting in acknowledging all parts of himself, but who loves his family. And Grace, who is so angry and bitter at Frank for putting their kids in such a confused position — as she should be. But Grace also loves Frank, and to read her as she begins to understand him, is so wonderful — there are no lightning rods, per say, but Grace forces herself to examine who she is, who she wants to be as a person as she considers Frank’s decisions.

I will say that I wish that sort of depth had been given to their kids as they come to terms with their father’s choice, but that didn’t detract from the joy of this book.

Emily 

Emily is lost. Alcohol has been her BFF for so long, that after rehab there are days where she doesn’t know what do with herself,  besides arguing with Violet. However, Leon forces her to get started on making amends with her family, and it’s then the book delves into her past a bit, about who she was and what she’s truly done.

Her family have every right to hate her, but she is trying to make amends at the same time, acknowledging the hurt she’s caused, and knowing whatever she does may never be enough. Again, Carroll makes you see two sides to every story.

It’s a wonderful character exploration of someone who realises they actually can be better than they think.

Violet

Violet grew up knowing she had to be perfect, she had to present the refined cultured Dublin High Society face to the world — the one her strict father wanted. When she doesn’t, she is discarded by her father, and forced to endure life in a Magadalene convent that were notorious for the way they treated women who were fallen.

Years later, we realise that Violet’s grouchy exterior hides a deep-seated fear borne of those experiences. It’s on an anniversary that Emily begins to realise just how complex a character Violet is.

Throw these women together and you have a  set of housemates and characters who work well off each other and make the story such a joy to read. I wanted more from certain parts of the ending for these women, but at the same time, it’s not the ending that really matters — it’s their journey there which is what this book is all about.

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