Most book characters have friends, of some kind. Of course, you get your occasional oddball loner like Eleanor Oliphant, but even they usually end up with a buddy or two by the end. But an interesting sub-section of books feature friendships that last over years, decades, across countries and continents. Often, they’re more interesting than the romantic relationships that usually get the most attention. Here are ten books about enduring friendships that will make you want to call your own bestie.
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
Not only is The Weekend one of my favourite books about enduring friendships, it’s also one of the best books about older women on my shelves. Too often, older women in fiction are depicted as objects of pity, sad sacks who live in isolation or only care about their grandchildren. Charlotte Wood does a fantastic job of depicting older women who lead full and rich lives – and have complex and rewarding friendships. The four women at the heart of this story have been through it all together, and yet there’s still more surprises in store for them. Read my full review of The Weekend here.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
One of the most beloved and acclaimed contemporary books about enduring friendships is My Brilliant Friend, the first in Elena Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels. It lays the groundwork for an epic friendship between two girls who grow up in mid-century Naples. Their families are poor, the local politics is bloody, and each of them have to fight tooth and nail to forge their own path. Their friendship isn’t sweet or simple – it’s dark and complex and full of the strange affection and envy that seems unique to young women. Ferrante’s incredible Italian prose is beautifully translated into English by Ann Goldstein. Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Anyone who knows anything at all about A Little Life knows that it’s a deeply traumatic read, certainly not one for the faint of heart. The novel’s traumatic content has been talked to death, but what’s received comparatively scant attention is the power of the enduring friendships between the four primary characters. Jude’s “little life” is impossibly difficult and filled with tragedy and cruelty, but his friendships are what empower and uplift him as he endures it. Not every tear you cry as you read this book will be a sad one, as the power of friendship is every bit as moving. Read my full review of A Little Life here.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
It would be easy to glance at the premise of The Color Purple and think that it’s yet another book about how terrible life is for Black women in America – but if you take a closer look, it’s actually one of the most uplifting books about enduring friendship from the Black canon. Celie is forced to grow up far too fast, subjected to abuse as a child and married to a man she doesn’t love. But it is her friendships with the strong women around her that allow her to fight back, to forge a path to a life that’s more like the one she dreamed for herself. Read my full review of The Color Purple here.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club is one of the books about enduring friendship that reflect an oft-overlooked reality: that the strongest and most enduring friendships are often forged through shared experiences of struggle. Suyuan Woo was forced to flee her Kweilin home during WWII and abandon her twin daughters along the way. In her new home, San Francisco, she invited three women from her church to join her at a standing appointment to play mahjong and eat delicious food. In so doing, she forged a connection that endured hardships and lasted generations. Read my full review of The Joy Luck Club here.
Sula by Toni Morrison
Books about enduring friendships are rarely simple, but Sula is more complex than most. Two girls grow up in The Bottom, a Black neighbourhood with a ghastly history. Nel’s home life is stable and rigid, while Sula’s is eccentric and loose. Despite their differences, they become close, and their fierce attachment is bolstered rather than broken by a shared traumatic experience. Their paths diverge after adolescence, but the bond between them never truly breaks. The burden of their dreadful secret follows them into adulthood, a friendship that endures distance, gossip, and betrayal.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Dystopian futures might seem like odd settings for books about enduring friendships, but in Never Let Me Go, it just makes sense. The story begins like a dark academia novel, with children at a boarding school, isolated from the trials and tribulations of the “real” world. Kazuo Ishiguro masterfully teases out the “big reveal”, the reason that these children are being so carefully cared for and selectively educated. As the truth dawns on the reader, the closeness of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy begins to make a new kind of sense – and their inevitable end will break your heart. Read my full review of Never Let Me Go here.
The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
What’s a Sherlock without his Watson? The enduring friendship at the heart of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes is so iconic, it’s slipped into cultural shorthand. Watson is more than a sidekick to Holmes; he’s a sounding board, a drinking buddy, a chronicler, and a sanity-check. Watson tends to recede into the background, as he narrates Holmes’s cases, but if you remind yourself to read between the lines, you’ll find hints at the adorable mutual affection these two men share. Maybe it nudges at the line between friendship and something more, eh? (Don’t say that too loud, though, the Holmes purists will get mad.) Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
There are so many criss-crossing friendships and other relationships in Girl, Woman, Other that you’ll probably need a map to make track. Each character is connected Love Actually-style, but there are a couple of enduring friendships that are worth closer attention. Dominique and Amma in particular are the heart of the novel, young friends who founded a theater company together after finding themselves typecast and marginalised in mainstream productions. Their friendship persists even as their lives go in very different directions, through fundamental disagreements and across continents, culminating in a heartfelt reunion at the end of the novel. Read my full review of Girl, Woman, Other here.
Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
One of the cruel realities of life is that our reward for maintaining friendships over decades is often losing our cognitive grasp of them. Emma Healey confronts that reality in Elizabeth Is Missing, a “heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging”. The protagonist, Maud, is slowly losing her memory as she descends into dementia, but she remembers something essential: her best friend, Elizabeth, is missing. How can she convince others around her to believe her and to help? She begins writing notes to herself, in the hopes of discovering the truth and save her beloved bestie.