Skip to main content

Between Us


Between Us

It’s been 10 years since the formation of the so-called “Brian Club,” a WhatsApp group of friends who met one another while working at a Manchester bookstore. A decade later, some things have changed pretty dramatically for them.

Dev overcame addiction and became a prize-winning reality TV star. He is now using his money to pay for fabulous vacations, like a lavish weekend at a “Downton Abbey”–style country manor, celebrating some notable milestones in the group’s lives. Dev recently has gotten engaged to his girlfriend, Anita; another Brian Club member, Gina, is celebrating a birthday; and, most notably for Roisin and her longtime boyfriend Joe, both members of the club, Joe’s latest screenwriting project --- a series called “Hunter” --- is about to air on the BBC.

"Mhairi McFarlane’s novels have always been emotionally perceptive and richly complex. BETWEEN US is no exception."

Roisin is proud of Joe, but she can’t get over the nagging feeling that something has changed between them. Why hasn’t she already seen the first episode of “Hunter”? Shouldn’t she have gotten an advance screening before watching it alongside their friends and the rest of the UK? When she does get to see the premiere, she’s even more perturbed. Joe has mined her own family secrets for his sex-fueled detective show, as well as episodes from their relationship that seem to hint to Roisin that maybe Joe --- like the protagonist he celebrates on screen --- has not been entirely faithful.

Of course, when Roisin confronts Joe, he convinces her that she’s imagining things. Or is he gaslighting her? Either way, the two decide to take a break while Joe is in the US for a few days, trying to sell film rights to one of his other projects. When Roisin, confused and embarrassed about her situation, has a panic attack after being mocked by the students at the high school where she teaches English, her headmistress demands that she take some time away.

Conveniently, Roisin’s mother, with whom she’s never been particularly close, is desperately in need of some extra hands at the family pub in the small town where Roisin grew up. So reluctantly, Roisin retreats to rural life --- only to encounter the last person she’d expect to find there: handsome Matt, the one member of their friend group who just never got along with Joe.

As weeks go by, and Roisin and Matt begin to share secrets they’ve never told their other friends, Roisin also starts to change how she thinks about her other relationships --- including her seemingly doomed romance with Joe; her friendships with her best friends, Gina and Meredith; and even her sometimes rocky relationship with her mother.

What happens when a friend group that’s been the backbone of your life for a decade undergoes a seismic shift? That’s the real question at the heart of the book, along with considerations of trust, responsibility and forgiveness. Mhairi McFarlane’s novels have always been emotionally perceptive and richly complex. BETWEEN US is no exception.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 11, 2023

Between Us
by Mhairi McFarlane