Given its importance in most of our lives, friendship doesn’t seem to figure in fiction as much as might be expected, often part of characters’ backstories rather than its central focus, or perhaps that’s just the kind of fiction I read. I’ve already posted once on it but it’s a theme I’m sufficiently keen on to pick out five more novels where friendship is key, each with links to reviews on my blog.
From the title you’d think that friendship was far from central to German author Lucy Fricke’s Daughters but Martha and Betty are the lynchpins of each other’s lives. It’s Betty who Martha calls when her estranged father asks her to drive him to Switzerland to die. These two middle-aged women set out on the oddest of road trips with Kurt in the back seat, taking off on their own journey of discovery when Kurt makes an unexpected announcement. Fricke unfolds her story through Betty’s often sardonic voice, a brittle exterior covering a well of hurt accumulated over decades, softening her tone a little as revelations are made. What begins as an entertaining, snarkily narrated road novel turns into something more sober along the way and is all the better for it.
Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings has a very appealing structure: a group of young people form an enduring friendship which survives the buffeting of adulthood. It follows six teenagers who meet in 1974 at a summer camp aimed at fostering artistic talent, each very different from the other. They dub themselves the interestings in that ironic way that fifteen-year-olds do. From there, Wolitzer’s novel criss-crosses fifty years of social upheaval woven though the lives of her characters with a light touch. Wolitzer’s characters are engaging and fallible and her story utterly absorbing. A novel to sit back and lose yourself in.
Anna Hope’s Expectation follows a similar structure to Wolitzer’s. Opening in 2004, it explores themes of motherhood, love and feminism through the lives of Hannah, Cate and Lissa who settle into a house overlooking London Fields after graduation, living lives full of hard work and enjoyment. Much has changed by the end of the novel – betrayal, grief, and disappointment have all been suffered along with forgiveness, joy and hope. Each of the friends’ lives are followed in narrative threads which intertwine, interspersed with snapshots from their past filling in their stories. The result is a pleasingly immersive novel filled with wit, humanity and compassion which steers well clear of the saccharine.
In Swedish writer Johanna Hedman’s The Trio the lines between friendship and love affairs blur as they so often do. As you’ll have gathered from the title, Hedman’s novel is about three young people – two already the closest of friends – who form a bond when Hugo becomes a lodger in Thora’s house. He becomes obsessed by Thora and August, her sometimes lover, observing their intimacy with fascination and a tinge of envy, gradually drawn into it until he’s unsure whether it’s Thora or August he loves. Decades later, Thora and August’s daughter rings Hugo’s bell with questions to ask about her mother. I thoroughly enjoyed this accomplished debut which leaves much for readers to infer.
My last choice echoes my first in that best friends are to the fore. Jennifer Down’s Our Magic Hour follows twenty-four-year-old Audrey for just over a year after Katy kills herself, exploring the devastation of grief and loss through a group of young people, suddenly made aware of their own vulnerability. When her dearest friend dies, Audrey slowly falls apart while trying to keep everyone else from doing the same. When the crisis finally comes, she decides to strike out on her own, determined to try to make a life for herself but it’s hard, lonely work with missteps along the way. Our Magic Hour is a masterclass in elegant understatement. It could very easily have become overwhelmingly bleak but instead it’s a celebration of friendship and resilience in the darkest of times.
Any novels about friendship you’d like to add to my list?
If you’d like to explore more posts like this, I’ve listed them here.