It’s first Saturday of the month, which means that it’s Six Degrees of Separation day. This is a meme hosted by Kate at her BooksAreMyFavouriteandBest website. Here’s how Kate describes it:
On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways…
Kate’s starting book this month is Friendaholic by Elizabeth Day which, true to form, I have not read. I’m taking the ‘similar theme’ route, revolving around the rather predictable theme of friends and friendship.
Of course, thinking about friendship immediately brings to mind My Brilliant Friend, the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet about the friendship between Elena and Lina, two young girls growing up in a poverty-stricken section of Naples in the 1950s. Lina marries young, becomes financially successful, while Elena undertakes an academic and writing career. Told from Elena’s point of view, Lina is always smarter and more street-smart and, along with Elena, you’re never really sure whether you trust her or not. Like all long term relationships, there are periods of closeness and distance, and their fortunes ebb and flow, both emotionally and financially. (See my review of the Quartet here).
Friendships are often rooted in (and perhaps contribute to) a shared world view, and when the commonality breaks down, so does the friendship. Historian and academic Anne Applebaum talks about this in Twilight of Democracy: the Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends. In this book, which is a mixture of memoir and political argument, Applebaum talks about her falling out with her friends, most of whom would fit into that American Enterprise Institute, Thatcheritish, conservative-leaning (but not Trumpian) Republican world of intellectuals and diplomats. They have found themselves on different sides of a political divide that runs through the right in Poland, Hungary, Spain, France Italy, and with some differences, the British right and the American right. This political divide has ruptured their personal friendships as well. (See my review here).
Helen Garner’s thinly disguised memoir The Spare Room explores the demands and limits of friendship when she is asked to host a friend from Sydney who is seeking alternative therapy for advanced cancer. Nicola’s death is not really the core of this story: instead the drama of the book is Helen’s rage and inadequacy in the face the demands of friendship, and her frustration at her friend’s relentless faith in a “cure” that Helen feels is quackery. (Short review here).
Sigrid Nunez’s book The Friend is quite short, and it left me wondering whether I understood it properly. 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. (Short review here).
Friendship is particularly painful in adolescence, and most coming-of-age books explore it, or its absence, as part of growing up. In Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, the main character, August, was motherless when her father shifted her from SweetGrove Tennessee to live with her younger brother in Brooklyn. Forbidden by their father from going down into the streets to play with the other children, August watches three other girls, Sylvia, Angela and Gigi as they amble the neighbourhood streets. As she and her brother gradually achieve more independence, August comes to know the three girls and is embraced into their friendship group. Over time each of the girls has to find her own way from parental demands, expectations and inadequacies. (See my review here).
And then there is a absence of any friendship whatsoever. The eponymous main character in Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a lonely thirty-year old woman. Just not ‘self-contained’ or without friends, she is bone-achingly lonely. Eleanor is gradually brought into a circle of other kind people – not saints, but just ordinary people acting with everyday kindness. (Review here).
So, no great leaps of creativity or imagination in putting together my chain, but rather a linking of books which all throw their own perspective on the phenomenon of friendship.