Female Friendships in Fiction

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Curling up with a book that has a fascinating female lead is one of my favorite ways to spend a day. And when a novel explores a friendship between two (or more!) women, I find it to be a doubly compelling read. The recent publication trend embracing books where relationships between women take center stage shows that I am definitely not alone in this. Most notably, the recently translated series of Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante has generated a renewed interest in female friendship in fiction. The beauty of the relationship Ferrante depicts in My Brilliant Friend and the other novels in the series lies in its depth and complexity. A thread of unsettling violence runs through the novels, and lifelong friends Elena and Lila are sometimes inseparable allies and sometimes seemingly intractable enemies. Yet in spite of its occasionally poisonous nature, the friendship between the two women remains the most stimulating and fortifying force in both of their lives. If Ferrante Fever has captured your attention, why not check out some of these other novels that place female friendship –  in all of its depth, strength, and complexity – at the center of the story? From classics to contemporary fiction, and with locations varying from England and Italy, to the ancient Middle East and the contemporary United States, there is truly something for everybody here.

The Girls

How can so many young women get caught up in the lure of cults? This novel examines the commune counter-culture of 1960s California.

Little Women

The four March sisters are about as different as they could be. Meg is grown-up, and looking towards marriage and her own future family. Jo is a tomboy, and also a committed writer. Beth is shy and retiring, and Amy is precocious. With their father away at war, their mother struggles to feed the family, and the four sisters rely on each other. Whether they’re putting on a play, forming a secret society, or celebrating an unconventional Christmas, the girls manage to find fun and laughter, and the bond between the four sisters remains central to everything they do.

My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. As the two girls grow and mature, their understanding of their neighborhood, city, and country also grows. And the transformations in their own lives echo the greater transformations in society at large. Sometimes friends and sometimes enemies, the changing relationship between the two women is the central aspect of this impressive and wide-ranging novel.

NW

Zadie Smith’s novel is set in the northwest of London, and tells the story of four young adults who grew up in Caldwell, the local council estate (housing project). From a difficult background, Leah Hanwell, Natalie (formerly Keisha) Blake, Felix Cooper, and Nathan Bogle all struggle to make a success of their lives. The novel especially focuses on the friendship between Leah and Natalie, and the differences between them that only intensify as they grow older. A shared background and history mean that their lives continue to intersect, but ethnic distinctions and socio-economic class shifts illuminate the complexity of their interactions.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners tells the story of the five Bennett sisters and their mother’s quest to marry each of them to an eligible bachelor in order to secure their financial futures. When lively Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy, she finds him arrogant and conceited, and believes him to be the last man she could ever marry. An unlikely courtship develops, and Elizabeth realizes that true love can arise from the most unpromising beginnings.

The Red Tent

The Red Tent tells the story of Dinah, a minor biblical character from the Book of Genesis. From a young age Dinah is trained as a midwife by her four mothers – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah – the wives of Jacob. She takes those skills with her as she builds a new life for herself in a new land. Told in Dinah’s voice, the novel reveals the stories of ancient womanhood as it occurs both in and outside the protective world of the red tent.