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  • Ninay Desai

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years is a book about friendship, destiny and our plans for our lives. Published in 2020 – a year when the pandemic derailed many a plan, it couldn’t have been timed better to fit the presiding mood of unpredictability. It’s a quick, light read. However, if you’re looking for romance with a dash of prophecy, this is not it. Stop reading now and cancel that order from Amazon!

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

The book has a very definite sense of setting – which is New York. It is obvious that the author has lived there given the specificity of her locations. The protagonists’ homes and workplaces signify status and upward mobility.

The lead characters are two childhood friends who are polar opposites in terms of personality and life choices – the rational, control-freak corporate lawyer, Dannie who prefers (as we are told repeatedly) the “black and white terms” of contracts over displays of bravado in courtrooms. This is a character who has a specific breakfast marked out for days when she needs to feel like a winner. We get it. Dannie, the character whose point of view we inhabit, likes things to be planned and finessed to within an inch of their lives. In the first chapter, we see that she lives by a timeline, a set blueprint and David, her boyfriend is willing to play along.

The other major character in the novel is her best friend Bella, who with her fairy tale name is the quintessential emotionally-damaged but intuitively-grounded, float-with-the-wind, flaky artist (who is also a trust fund baby of indifferent and largely absent parents). She frequently jets off to faraway locales at a moment’s notice. Oh, well. To say that this is a trope that’s getting predictable would be… well, predictable. The Firefly Lane series by Kristin Hannah had a similar dynamic as does the show Gilmore Girls (which I’ve only watched snippets of, but know that it features a mother-daughter relationship that feels more like a friendship between two women with contrasting personalities and a caffeine addiction).

The genre of women’s fiction is somewhat amorphous and defined often both by its readership as well its content. To the best of my understanding, a defining characteristic of the genre is that the equation between two or more female characters rather than, say the factors opposing a romantic match, is usually the main source of conflict in the plot. In Five Years delivers partially on that front but the contrast between the protagonists is too on the nose and their friendship doesn't feel grounded.

The idea of Dannie’s dream featuring a life quite different from the one she has planned is an interesting premise. This dream, for the convenience of plot comes with a five-year timeline and is the inciting incident that sets the ball rolling. This starting point coupled with the eventual real-life roll out of this 'dream', five years in the future and in the penultimate chapter of the book, act as a frame for the story. The point that context is crucial to understanding events in their true light is well-made but the rest of it was a let-down in terms of narration, characterisation and the frankly, the conclusion.

The supporting characters - David, Aaron, Morgan and Ariel lack depth and flesh-and-blood motivations. We never get to see what makes them stick around in certain circumstances or leave in other situations. Completely lacking even that most basic level of agency that is usually accorded to minor characters, they appear to populate the world of this novel only to provide plot points and create a sense of the protagonists having other people in their lives. Perhaps Morgan and Ariel, being a gay couple, are also a token nod to inclusivity. What makes it odder still is that being close friends of both Dannie and Bella and living in the same city, they barely make an appearance post the mid-point of the story. Not even to support their friends during a major crisis.

Apart from this, there is the sub-plot of Dannie’s lawyerly work which also pushes her eventually to trust her instincts instead of only the letter of the law. This dovetails neatly with what is missing in her personal life as well. This tying up of loose ends so perfectly into one tidy bow takes away from the story resembling anything close to the messiness and crossed lines of real life.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend it because it flubs its chance of being a touching story about the constancy, love and insight it takes to make a lifelong friendship.

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Apr 15

Your review of the book allures me to read ‘In Five Years’ Niyati.

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Apr 15
Replying to

Super! Do read it and leave us a comment telling us what you thought of it, Niyati. Happy reading!

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