Book Review: ‘Expectation’ By Anna Hope
“Life is still malleable and full of potential. The openings to the roads not taken have not yet sealed up. They still have time to become who they are going to be.”
That’s how we meet the three protagonists of Anna Hope’s third novel, Expectation. It’s also how the beginning of your twenties feel, right? In your early twenties you’re not worrying about interest rates or fertility or ageing parents or debt. I mean, at least not in the minutiae way that keeps you awake at two in the morning. Life is still malleable.
Expectation follows three friends over the course of a decade as they move into their thirties and life pulls them away from one another. It’s about what happens when marriage, motherhood and professional success fail to live up to the dreams we once had. Cate is a first-time mother, ravaged by sleep-deprivation, maternal expectations, an over-bearing mother-in-law and a strained relationship with a husband she no longer recognises. Hannah is supposed to be enjoying the fruits of a successful marriage, a well-paying job and home ownership, but is desperately unhappy after countless failed attempts to conceive naturally and now two failed attempts at IVF. And Lissa, with the kind of disarming beauty that afforded her insurmountable opportunities in her youth is now a failed actress with no partner, no offspring, and a mother who she believes never wanted her: “She is the sum total only of her failures.”
I didn’t love the book as much as I loved what it made me think about. I didn’t find the protagonists particularly warm or endearing or likeable. They were each, at different stages, self-absorbed and self-sabotaging. But I wonder if that’s what makes it so on the nose. I wonder if Hope used their un-likeability as a function for us to see ourselves in these women – none of us are wholly likeable either. I often think that one of the greatest myths modern feminism permeates is the belief that because our generation now have access to more abundant and autonomous lives, that we will by default have more abundant and autonomous lives. But for a woman drowning in student debt or a woman with a body that refuses to carry a pregnancy, life can feel anything but controllable. Lissa’s mother says to her bitterly one night, “You’ve had everything. The fruits of our labour. The fruits of our activism. We changed the world for you and what have you done with it?”. This kind of pressure colours every page of Hopes novel and the women’s lives. What are you going to do with your one great life? What will you make of it? How will you ensure it isn’t wasted?
The shared sentiment of Hannah, Cate and Lissa; that life has been cruel to them, reminded me of the first time we met Hannah Horvath on Girls. Horvath with her trademark tinge of self-pity, who coasted through her twenties with an outwardly articulated blend of entitlement and outrage, truly believed she was being punished – with job redundancy and toxic relationships and bad sex and a gay boyfriend – for a crime she did not commit. When in fact, as Expectation encourages us to acknowledge, part of growing older means coming to accept that the life you’ve long fantasised about is, maybe, not the life you are destined for.