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.