I read Lisa Ireland’s The Shape of Us last year and adored it. Sure the plot itself was great, but the characters captured my heart and I could really relate to them. Her latest, The Art of Friendship is no different as I was taken on a (fairly tumultuous – but not all bad) journey with our two leads, Libby and Kit.
And I could SO relate. To the characters, their friendships and the ups and downs of life in general.The Art of Friendship
by Lisa Ireland
Published by Macmillan Australia
on April 24th 2018
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1760552267, 9781760552268
We all expect our friendships from childhood to last forever...
Libby and Kit have been best friends ever since the day 11-year-old Kit bounded up to Libby's bedroom window. They've seen each other through first kisses, bad break-ups and everything in-between. It's almost 20 years since Libby moved to Sydney, but they've remained close, despite the distance and the different paths their lives have taken.
So when Libby announces she's moving back to Melbourne, Kit is overjoyed. They're best friends - practically family - so it doesn't matter that she and Libby now have different ...well, different everything, actually, or so it seems when they're finally living in the same city again.
Or does it?
I’m loath to go off on too much of a tangent and render this review unreadable (and more about me than the book) so a separate post on friendships may be warranted as a result of the extension contemplation this book evoked. But as someone with very old friends from my childhood (as a result of growing up in a small place and remaining in contact), University friends, work friends and adult friends I feel I’ve experienced the friendship spectrum.
In fact my mother and I recently had a conversation about those with whom we’d be friends no matter what; and those friends who are part of our lives purely because of circumstance. (Parents of kids’ friends, work colleagues and so forth.)
Indeed a comment by a character in the book reminded me of something my SIL said after lunching with me and my childhood friends a couple of decades ago: basically that we were ‘now’ so different but were probably once very similar.
‘Ah, that explains it. You have shared history.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There’s something about friends we form in childhood that makes them hard to let go, even when we no longer have anything in common.’ p 213
But enough of that. Suffice to say Ireland NAILS the friendship dilemmas big time and I can’t imagine anyone who can’t relate to those in this book in some way.
Ireland puts us in Libby and Kit’s heads and so we know what they’re thinking and feeling. We’re there as they ponder their feelings and their relationship. And as they look back on some pivotal points in their 30yr friendship.
Because I’m all about the balance, my very minor gripes about this book really only relate to some detail I felt was missing about some of those moments, which we only get in summary (and I’m thinking of Kit’s experience in England and Libby’s life after Goody and time at boarding school).
I could very definitely identify with Kit, childless and single when we meet her at 40. She adores her godson Harry and dotes on him the way I very much did with my niece and I was reminded of that relationship.
I shed A LOT of tears in the latter part of this book. A lot. It’s kinda confronting in some ways. At least it was to me.
Maybe there was no filling the hole. Maybe this feeling of loneliness was simply something she’d have to learn to live with. She wasn’t the most important person in anyone’s life, and although the knowledge was painful, there was a certain freedom in that. At least she didn’t have to worry about disappointing anyone. p 339
This book is about far more than friendships however. It’s about our marriage, relationships and parenting. It’s also about our relationships with our own parents as adults and the impact our childhood has on the rest of our lives. It’s also about work and careers and the balance between financial security and following our passions. There is a lot of miscommunication evident in this novel and it’s interesting to see how that unfolds after years of quashing feelings and not saying what we want… or being who we want.
For me, this book is very much about establishing our identity (separate to that of our parents and that of our children, partners and friends) and being true to our selves. Kit has long-eschewed relationships and has some baggage from the past; Libby’s finding herself following in her mother’s footsteps and moulding herself to those around her, and both women find themselves making assumptions about their friend’s lives – and those of others – which they’re forced to re-examine.
People of my era will reminisce about many of the nostalgia Ireland drops in as the childhood friends play elastics and read Trixie Belden.
In some ways it could be said this is a ‘small’ story. It’s just about two women’s friendship. About their lives. But Ireland draws so much into this story through the women themselves and reminds us how complicated life can be and the part fear can play in preventing us from moving forward and being honest with others, and ourselves.
This is a beautiful bittersweet novel and Ireland continues to delve into those thoughts and feelings we often leave buried or hidden.
The Art of Friendship by Lisa Ireland will be published in Australia this week by Pan Macmillan.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.