If I don’t like a book I stop reading it. Life is not long enough to waste your time reading books you don’t like. Not with a TBR stack as big as mine.
I did read this book all the way through to the end so I must have like it on some level. This is going to be one of those reviews.
Sigrid Nunez’s novel The Friend is about a woman working through the grieving process. Her life-long friend, a colleague and former lover has killed himself, an event that took everyone by surprise. He left no note, but he did leave his dog, a Great Dane named Apollo, to the unnamed narrator. The dog is the only named character in the book.
The book is about dealing with loss, about suicide, about caring for a Great Dane while living in a small New York City apartment, about writing, about teaching creative writing, about reading, about 200 pages.
There is a lot of navel gazing.
It’s interesting for a while. Most people who read novels are interested in reading about novels and novel-writing to some degree myself included. But there are already a lot of books about writers. A lot. Many, many, many. Maybe enough. Maybe more than enough.
The book really only has two characters, the narrator and the friend who has killed himself. Other people appear and there is the dog, but most of the time the narrator is focused on working through her feelings about her deceased friend and about herself. This is an accurate depiction of grieving, in my experience anyway. When we lose someone we love, we lose a part of our own lives, too. We grieve that loss as much as the lose of the deceased.
The novel becomes a sort of scrapbook, a collection of anecdotes about other writers who killed themselves, complaints about how teaching has changed for the worse, the ways students disappoint, how difficult it is to write, ways that writing has become demeaned. All of this is true to life, but it makes for an exasperating read in the end. It’s difficult for me to feel badly for someone with tenure and a rent controlled apartment in New York City. I tend to reach a point where I want to shout, “Pay my mortgage, why don’t you!”
Too much of The Friend struck me as precocious. Only the dog gets a name, for example. How literary. In the final pages there is a “twist” scenario very close to what happens at the end of Life of Pi when we find out the tiger maybe wasn’t really a tiger.
But I did stick with it, all afternoon long, on the couch reading with my own dog sleeping by my side.
Which implies there is something in the book that I liked.
Maybe the narrator herself, maybe the dog, maybe the two together, maybe the all the anecdotes and commentary about writers and books I know. There was something in The Friend that I liked enough to keep me going until the end, but for the record, I was happy when it was all over.