Esther Freud trained as an actress before she became a novelist, and this enjoyable, absorbing story of drama students struggling to carve out careers for themselves clearly owes much to her own experiences.
It follows the stories of three characters in particular over a period of 14 years: Nell Gilby, dumpy, frumpy but deep-down sexy, the quiet one with hidden talents; the glamorous mixed-race Charlie, tall, golden-skinned and beautiful; and the tall, dark, handsome, ambitious Dan whose career conflicts with the demands of a wife and four kids. It all has the ring of truth: the brutally competitive atmosphere of drama school, the promises that don't materialise, the agents who don't return calls, the lecherous film director, the possible part in The Bill, the failed auditions, the trauma of getting spots before shooting a film scene, the mixture of solidarity and rivalry between friends, the difficulties of doing regional accents in rep, the crap jobs one regrets turning down – and, of course, the lucky breaks.
Some reviewers have praised this as a funny book, but I didn't find it particularly hilarious. Instead it is good-natured and empathetic, making you share in the characters' emotional highs and lows. Freud's prose style is simple and transparent – it's not flashy, but it has the great merit of being able to make you forget you're reading a book.