In a month when bad news came in threes (and I’m not talking about presidential debates), I realised three things.
- The support of female friends is invaluable. I love the guys too but the girls rock. Especially after losing a loved one, each in their own way reminds me they care.
- No relationship is without conflict. All my closest friends and I have had occasional disagreements: politics, ethics, behaviour, or which dishcloth to use for wiping up red wine. Just like any couple, it’s how you deal with these flash points that defines your respect for one another.
- Friendships can survive long periods of neglect, much like my garden, and burst into bloom once more. Memories, photos and Facebook act as great fertiliser.
A fellow writer recently discussed the awkwardness of ‘unfriending’ a person. Not on social media, but in person. I get that. On three occasions, I have ‘consciously uncoupled’ from people whose influence became more negative than positive. On each occasion, I felt lighter, happier and couldn’t understand why it had taken so long. But true friends I will treasure forever.
Seeking comfort in books, as is my wont in times of trouble, I went back to female friendships. I re-read many and sought out certain passages which touched me the first time. Here’s a brief list of my favourites for you to curl up with. Ideally with a comfy blanket and a bowl of tomato soup.
The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford
A fictionalised account of the Mitford sisters, this insight into upper-class British family life in Downton Abbey through a child’s eyes. Fanny’s love and friendship with Linda and her sisters is a joy.
Temples of Delight, By Barbara Trapido
Everyone should have a Jem. A bright, lively rulebreaker who enters Alice’s life like a firework. For an all-too-brief but thrilling period in her young life, Jem opens all kinds of doors, then disappears through one.
Accabadora, by Michela Murgia
An ageing seamstress who operates as the opposite of a midwife (she helps souls leave rather than arrive) has no children. She adopts Maria, whose family can no longer afford to feed her. The two women learn much from each other, and learn how to manage life as a single woman in rural Sicily.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
Two women of different generations and even class, Renée is the concierge of a Paris apartment block, who outwardly conforms to what her residents expect. On the 5th floor, Paloma is planning her own suicide before her thirteenth birthday. Two women with a shared curiosity for the meaning of life.
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
Also set in Sicily, this book offers an exceptional insight into the world of blood feuds and family roles but the theme is closer to The Pursuit of Love. An apparently unequal friendship turns out to be more balanced than it seems. A painfully accurate rendition of what a good friendship really is.
Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill
Both bleak and comforting, this vision of the future where women compete on every level is uncomfortably close to reality. The warmth of female friendship, the love and loss of a true friend is resonant throughout. It’s pitched as YA, which is a good thing. All young women, and men, should read this. It has a message for us all.