Discover more from Well Read with Anna Bonet
Three of my favourite novels about friendship
Including a true crime story, a prize-winning novel and the best Zadie Smith of all time.
In the world of magazines, where I’ve worked for almost five years, the issues out in February are almost always consciously or unconsciously themed around love. It is, after all, the month of Valentine’s, and there’s something about couples everywhere you look - whether that’s Tesco dine-in-for-two adverts or articles telling you which romantic movies to watch.
Naturally, I thought about theming this email on love. Many of my favourite novels of all time examine romantic relationships, so I’d have no shortage of books to share. But I know you’re probably sick of it by now, so instead I’ve settled on its not too distant cousin: friendship.
I love a great friendship novel, although I realise it’s such a broad theme - the categories within it could contain anything from toxic friendships to sisterhood. I chose the following three books because I thought they each offer something different, and it was only afterwards that I realised they all had a coming-of-age feel to them too.
I hope you love them as much as I do, but do let me know which your favourite friendship novels are - either by replying to this email or by leaving a comment - as it’s something I’m sure I’ll return to in this newsletter again.
Three great novels about friendship
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
As a long time Zadie Smith fan, I used to struggle to decide which was my favourite of her novels (always a toss up between White Teeth, NW and On Beauty). Then, in 2016, she published Swing Time and it became my easy number one favourite.
The novel follows two young girls who both dream of becoming dancers, though one is more talented than the other. As their childhood ends and their separate adult lives take them down two very different paths, their friendship fades entirely, but it’s never quite forgotten. The novel portrays the fragility of friendship and its complexities so well, and it’s also an exceptional book about identity, fame and failure.
Read it if you like: books by Donna Tartt, Monica Ali, or Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Girls by Emma Cline
Ostensibly, this is a book based on the infamous Manson Family murders, where young women living in a commune killed on behalf of their cult leader Charles Manson. So, naturally, The Girls is a taut and claustrophobic crime story, but I also love this novel for how it portrays the headiness of teenage friendship and girlhood, which is at the heart of it all.
It follows Evie, who reflects on how she became involved, aged 14, in this cult-like commune in the summer of 1969. It all began with one girl, the free-spirited and rebellious Suzanne, whose friendship offered excitement to Evie’s very ordinary world. It’s Suzanne she follows into the dark and it’s this dynamic which makes the story so utterly absorbing.
Read it if you like: Lullaby by Leila Slimani, Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, or My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
When Tony was a teenager in his all-boys school in the 1960s, the arrival of Adrian made a late addition to his already tight-knit friendship group. Although Adrian was slightly less fun than the others, they all got on, and they thought they would stay friends forever.
Now, Tony is retired and divorced, and Adrian is dead. When a lawyer’s letter arrives, Tony must confront the fact that his memory of their friendship might be somewhat skewered - and that he might have more to do with why Adrian is gone than he thought. At only 160 pages, this is a short book with big ideas about regret, memory, mental health and male friendship; a very worthy winner of the Booker prize back in 2011.
Read it if you like: books by Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian McEwan or Kazuo Ishiguro.
I’m excited that the BBC have dropped the first trailer for Conversations with Friends, adapted from Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name. Unlike most people, I much preferred this book to Normal People (and can talk for hours about why!), so I cannot wait to see it when it arrives on TV in May. If you’re yet to read the book, now is the time.