Daily Archives: March 4, 2020

‘The Friend’ by Sigrid Nunez


2018, 224 p.

A bit of a spoiler ahead.

This is only a small book, and it feels as if you are reading a memoir or a diary, rather than a novel.  It is addressed to an unnamed, dead friend in the second person “you” throughout, and it is a series of short paragraphs, separated by time and asterisks. The unnamed narrator is a female writer, teaching creative writing at a university as many writers tend to do. Her friend, to whom the book is addressed, was her mentor, a fellow teacher and also a writer and he had committed suicide.

Her friend is/was an egotistical, priapic curmudgeon really, but she loved him- not sexually, but as a friend. He was onto Wife Number Three (all the wives are designated this way), and when Wife Number Three refuses to continue caring for the writer’s huge Great Dane, called Apollo, the narrator reluctantly takes over his care.  It’s a big ask- she’s living in a small, rent-controlled flat in Manhattan, where animals are forbidden. On one level the book is about her deepening love for the dog, which is almost a form of displacement for her love for her friend. But it’s also about death, suicide, and most of all about writing.  Writing as an individual practice; writing as a social practice; writing as an industry.  The book flutters with allusions to other authors, most particularly My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley (which I had never heard of) and Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee, which I have read, and which shares a stubborn, unlovely old man. It is very much a reader’s and writer’s book, filtering the world through the words of other people, and using other people’s narratives as a way of making sense of things.

Near the end, there is a curious hiccough, that makes you wonder whether you read it correctly.  It is barely mentioned in the reviews that I have read of the book, which also seems strange.

It’s only a short book, and it quivers with emotion, making it an uncomfortable and yet compelling read.  I finished it wondering “what on earth WAS that book?”

My rating:  8/10

Sourced from: e-book from Yarra Plenty Regional Library.