Yesterday’s book of the week follows a friendship through three decades of life, and that inspired me to put together this Recommendsday.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Proviso: I’ve only read the first of the four books in this series, but I’m still recommending it here. Also apologies if you’re one of the millions who has already read these – as you know, I’m consistently behind the times on some things! Anyway, My Brilliant Friend is the the first book about Elena and Lila as they grow up in Naples in the late 1950s. They both want to escape the lives seem set out before them but chose different ways to try and do it. The book is about the two women, but also about the realities of life in a poor part of Naples after the Second World War. It’s harsh and hard scrabble and violent. I’ve got book two on the shelf waiting to be read, and I really must get around to it because writing this has reminded me that I want to know what happened to the women next.
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Mary McCarthy’s novel follows a group of young Vassar graduates in the 1930s. You follow them as they try to make their way in the world – to strike out and live different lives to their mothers, despite the obstacles still in the way of women at the time. They don’t all stay in touch with each other all the time, but their lives intertwine and the fellowship between them remains. You may have spotted this on the bookshelf on Saturday’s Bookshelfie – I read it a decade ago and I’ve kept hold of it because I liked it that much. But be prepared to be angry at the way the world treated women back then. It was written in the early 1960s, but McCarthy was born in 1912 so this is era she grew up in.
The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Another book written in the 1960s, another one that’s retained a place on my shelves for about a decade. I picked the Valley of the Dolls up in my initial Virago Modern Classics buying spree because it looked so pretty, and I’m so glad I did. Neely, Anne and Jennifer make friends when they are young and struggling in New York City. They fight their way to success in the entertainment industry, but it comes at a massive cost for all of them. If you’ve read anything about Hollywood or the entertainment industry in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, you can try and spot which actors and actresses might have inspired who (a bit like you can with the much more recent Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo). Don’t go expecting happy endings here, but it is a gripping read.
To add to these, you could probably put The Enchanted April – although the friendships there are developed over a much briefer period of time than the books I’ve mentioned above. And the Clary and Polly strand of the Cazalet Chronicles is definitely a story of friendship as well as one of family (they’re cousins). And there’s also The Lido by Libby Page, which tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a young reporter and an elderly woman as they try to save the community’s outdoor swimming pool.
Happy Wednesday everyone