Review: In Twenty Years: A Novel, by Allison Winn Scotch

I’m at a point in my life, and seem to have been for the past six or so years, where I feel like I should know what I’m doing.

I spent – and I daresay, we spent – our school years dreaming of the lives we’d have as adults. Be that with marriages and children or with glittering careers, or both! In university I was impatient to start this ascent to the life I dreamed of, that I had been preparing for for so many years. I’m still impatient for it now, but I have no idea how to go about it. I’m nearly thirty, which is pretty much the half way point between having left school and achieving the accolade of being a Well-Rounded and Settled Adult(TM), and I seem further away from whatever it is I want out of life than ever, and have even less idea about what it is I actually do want.

In Twenty Years: A Novel, shows that I am not remotely alone.

Sadly no knitwear is actually featured in the story.

This novel follows a group of friends who lived together at college, and their reunion twenty years later.

One of their number, Bea, who held the group together, is dead. The other five have been splintered and fractured by unrequited loves and petty rivalries. One is a top plastic surgeon, another an ageing and fabulously famous rock star. One is a rich housewife and lady of leisure, one is the Martha Stewart-style head of her own craft empire, and the last, her husband, is a stay at home father and former lawyer.

In spite of each of the characters being unusually successful (not a single one isn’t fantastically wealthy), and all having achieved their dreams, each has lost their way. The lives they envisaged for themselves at college haven’t turned out as they planned. To all appearances they are happy and fulfilled, but each has their own secret shame that they will do anything to hide from their seemingly perfect former friends.

Actually, I can’t relate to that all that much, being as I am neither successful nor wealthy. But nonetheless, these characters all seemed very human, in a way I don’t recall finding in any other novel I have read. Perhaps the idea of losing your way, and the feelings of shame and separation from everyone you used to know, who appear to be doing so well (via their carefully curated lives on social media) are themes all millenials such as myself can relate to.

Over the course of this story, Bea is the central character, in spite of her only being present as narrator for the first chapter. Her death clings to the group, as they each remember how friendship with her made them a better person. Her view of them, if she hadn’t died, is the one which they feel most shamed by – if Bea could see me now, she’d be so disappointed by what I have become. Bea’s zest for life and the feeling that while hers was cut short, theirs has been squandered, is the main driver for the events of the book.

It made want to do things, to shake off the fog of lethargy which seems to accompany me everywhere these days. It made me not want to compromise the things which are important to me, to draw more, to work on my writing, to read more and… to not spend my time at home dreading going to work, and my time at work wishing for home.

This is inspirational self-help dressed as a novel. This is teenage angst meets mid-life crisis. This should be on your TBR pile. Get it now, then start doing the things you always dreamed of.