Young Women by Jessica Moor – Female friendship and experience in contemporary London

Young Women by Jessica Moor

This powerful and compelling novel is based on the idea that every woman has a story of their past where they have experienced some form of assault. It also ranges over such themes as toxic friendship and the power of memory to disrupt life. Written in the voice of Emily, a young woman living in contemporary London, it speaks of the confusion of finding a whole new sort of friendship with a very different person, Tamsin. Meeting at a protest, theirs is a relationship fraught with unspoken baggage but also the highs of a new sort of life for  Emily who has become comfortable or at least settled in her work in a legal advocacy firm. She has one old friend, Lucy, and responsibilities for giving a voice to women caught up in the legal system. When she meets Tamsin she is literally dazzled by her confidence, personality and accomplished aurora. Emily is shown a whole new world by Tamsin, of hangover cures, female solidarity and much more. Soon Emily becomes totally focused on a woman who seems to change everything, as she introduces a whole new aspect to life. 

It is only when a huge news story breaks about historic sexual abuse that Emily begins to realise that somehow more lives have been changed than she realises. As she neglects her work,friendships and new relationships, Emily realises that everyone’s story is not straightforward.

This is a compelling novel written with a real instinct for the stories of sometimes lonely young women living in contemporary London who come to acknowledge that their stories of powerlessness in a society dominated by men is not unusual. Emily is an unreliable narrator, swayed by her own memories and perhaps lacking in understanding of the stories of others, what has happened and how that leaves their world view. The stories may range from specific incidents to difficult long term relationships, where the power was in the hands of men who often try to silence women. It speaks of online dating, the predictability of encounters, and the impact of lack of knowledge of what is really going on in people’s lives. It shows London as a place of contrasts, of bars inhabited by wealthy people and the mundane flats that most people live in, the cafes and meeting places, the popularity of films and the small corners of undiscovered possible meeting places. It speaks of the poise of the settled relationships that may well hide secrets, and also the traps set for the unwary struggling with language and vulnerable to exploitation. 

I found that this was a novel that was nearly impossible to put down as Emily struggles with her growing fascination for the enchanting Tamsin. Tamsin’s international background gives her an air of being difficult to tie down to a time and place, which becomes a huge consideration as the novel proceeds. I think that the vivid description of people adds greatly to the novel; Moor has a real gift for introducing characters in a succinct way and maintaining their consistent features, even when they are deliberately contradictory like Tamsin. The settings are also skillfully drawn, like Tamsin’s unlikely and unique living space with its balcony, contrasting with Emily’s far more ordinary flatshare. 

This is a book that I certainly enjoyed, and will be recommending to  others. It is so truthful in its demonstrating that no story is straightforward, and that revealing it may not always be the easy option to report and complain of abuse and assault. The relationships that Emily has with Tamsin and her longer term friend Lucy are both brilliantly handled.Using Emily’s voice allows the descriptions of others to be uncertain and undecided in a way that an omnipresent narrator would not be, and has much more to say about the protagonists in the well written novel. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and will certainly want to share it.