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Three to Read: On Friendships

Books to read and talk about with your friends

My Big Red Bag recommends three very different books about unusual friendships – one for a rainy day, one for a beach read and on to curl up in bed with.

The beginning of a new year is a difficult time for us book lovers. Deluged by best-of-the-year-lists of unread books,  sometimes all we want to do  is to drown the noise by curling into a bed with a Mills and Boons. But the best reads don’t really need to be ‘current’ and ‘hip’ to be relevant, they just need to be honest and well written. Sometimes, in a rush to consume the latest, the shiniest, the zeitgeist that is being talked about by the literati and the Twitterati, we ignore the gems from years gone by. Here, then, are our recommendations of three books about Friendship from the last few years , that a discerning reader will enjoy.

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walters (2012)

The chief friendship in this book is between a reluctant Italian inn-keeper and a sick starlet who alights upon the shore of his little village one day. There is also the friendship between an alcoholic American veteran-doomed to never complete his novel- and the innkeeper’s father. Then there is the bond  that develops between a wastrel addict and a dramatist clearly too good for him. Add to these friendships some indelible locales (the gorgeous Italian coastline that stands south of Genoa), an opportunistic Hollywood Moghul who you think you may recognize , the shadow of a tempestuous Richard Burton, and everyone’s desire to write a screenplay one day. This one is an ideal beach read for your next vacation.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)

“One likes to think there’s something in it, that old platitude amor vincit omnia. But if I’ve learned one thing in my short sad life, it is that that particular platitude is a lie. Love doesn’t conquer everything. And whoever thinks it does is a fool.”

There are the friendships that make us a better version of ourselves, and the friendships whose groupthink turns you into monsters. In your youth, the first heady days of a new friends’ group inspire a strong devotion to the ‘code’ of that group, it’s own secret ‘in’ language, and an insularity that protects you from what’s happening on the outside. The Red Bag dappled with being a Marxist and a philosopher, an alcoholic and an entrepreneur , with different friends’ groups. Tartt’s protagonists are flippant, corrosive, pretentious and altogether unlikable. They question societal mores with the disdain and insouciance of the very young. Read this one in preparation for her 2013 Goldfinch, or because you haven’t quite forgiven yourself for some of the friends you had.

Veronica, Mary Gaitskill (2005)

Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica is a book about great beauty and our attitudes towards it. Told from the point of view of a derelict ex-model, now cleaning windows to make a living, the book relays the story of her friendship with the ‘titular’ Veronica. If you’ve ever looked twice at a pair of unmatched friends and felt guilty about it, then this book is for you. Veronica- a chain smoking proof reader,  is everything the narrator Alison is not. She is ugly, dresses like a man and speaks in an irritating cadence. But an unlikely friendship develops between the two. The book is about more than their friendship though. It uses its two protagonists’ shared history to explore the history of a very specific milieu in the midst of the AIDS decade. Mary Gaitskill is one of those writers we find too cold to ‘love’. But in this book she creates characters and a story line that we can’t help appreciate. Read this when you’re in the mood to challenge yourself with something entirely different and alien to the rest of your bookshelf.


Photo Credit: susivinh via Compfight cc

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