Top Ten Tuesday – Friendship



Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is friendship. Once I’d written my list, I quickly realised that I haven’t exactly chosen books about friendships, rather I have chosen books which contain striking friendships. So, rather than do it all again, I hope you’ll indulge me!


1. Roseanne McNulty and Dr William Grene
From The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Roseanne McNulty, nearing 100 years old has been interred in a mental institution since she was a young woman. With the hospital facing closure, it is up to Dr William Grene to decide where Roseanne should go. In researching what brought her to this place, Dr Grene finds himself becoming more and more attached to his elderly charge and in tracing her unknowable past, shares his own losses and hurts. As they search for their own personal truths in this artfully constructed novel, they find their histories are more intertwined that could have been imagined and their friendship builds to a climax that is both heartrending and moving.

The world is not full of betrayers, it is full of people with decent motives and a full desire to do right by those who know them and love them. This is a little-known truth, but I think it is a truth nonetheless. Empirically, from all the years of my work, I would attest to that. I know it is a miraculous conclusion, but there it is. We like to make strangers of everyone. We are not wolves, but lambs astonished in the margins of the fields by sunlight and summer.


2. Owen Meany and John Wheelwright
From A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
During a baseball game in New Hampshire in 1953, one eleven year old boy – Owen Meany, hits a ball that kills his best friend’s mother in a freak accident. But Owen doesn’t believe in accidents and despite being severely undersized, with a voice defect, and tortured by his classmates, maintains a heart-warming and selfless friendship with the friend whose mother he killed and comes to command love, respect and fear before dying his predestined hero’s death.

It makes me ashamed to remember that I was angry with him for taking my armadillo’s claws. God knows, Owen gave me more than he ever took from me—even when you consider that he took my mother.

3. Tyler Durden and Narrator
From Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
“It’s only after you’ve lost everything,” Tyler says, “that you’re free to do anything.”
What does a good friend do? Allow you to be your true self? Give you courage to make hard decisions? Let you make mistakes without prejudice? Then let’s face it, Tyler Durden is a pretty good friend to our insomniac unnamed Narrator in Fight Club. The imaginary friend writ large, Durden is the perfect creation, everything the narrator is not. Or so he believes….


I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free, and I am not.


4. Vladimir and Estragon
From Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

When you think of Waiting for Godot, friendship doesn’t necessarily spring to mind. It’s a play of stagnation. Of waiting for that which won’t come, of the futility of that waiting and of our inability to escape it. But one important thing is, Didi and Gogo and waiting together. Their relationship is one of dependence and intertwinement and it is impossible to imagine these clowns without the other. This is a shared loneliness, and it is their friendship and its stark contrast to the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky that give the play its brief moments of hope, humour and warmth.

Estragon: [on one leg] I’ll never walk again.
Vladimir: [tenderly] I’ll carry you. [Pause.] If necessary


PicMonkey Collage


5. Emilia and Desdemona
From Othello by William Shakespeare
In Emilia and Desdemona, Shakespeare gives us one of the strongest depictions of a female friendship in all its dimension and death. Emilia is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters. Under the influence of her husband, she unwittingly brings about the downfall of Othello and Desdemona, but her courage and loyalty to her friend in her public unmasking of Iago brings a small measure of hope within the tragedy. Their friendship provides the necessary counterpoint to the hypocrisy and plotting of that between Iago and Othello and she remains a loyal, intelligent and forceful friend to the end, sacrificing her life so that Desdemona’s reputation can be restored.

I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest,
Lay down my soul at stake: if you think other,
Remove your thought; it doth abuse your bosom.
If any wretch have put this in your head,
Let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse!
For, if she be not honest, chaste, and true,
There’s no man happy; the purest of their wives
Is foul as slander.


6. Mouse and Mary Ann
From the Tales of The City series by Armistead Maupin
When thinking about Tales of the City, a series of books that always makes me think of friendship, I considered including Anna Madrigal and any one of her charges. But Anna is the obvious choice. Michael Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton are the odd couple, with Mary Ann functioning as the straight, uptight foil to the laid back unshakeable community who accepts everyone. Even her. The friendship between Mouse and Mary Ann survives lovers, murder, children, abandonment, stardom, AIDS and finally cancer. There is no question of not being there for one another, regardless of what has passed – what else should friends do?


It occurred to Michael, that this was the great perk of being loved: someone to tell you that it will get easier up ahead. … Even when it might not be true.


7. Michael Lamb (Fr Sebastian) and Owen Kane
From Lamb by Bernard MacLaverty
It’s hard to imagine that the story of a young disillusioned priest who runs off with a boy from his school would not touch on the theme of child abuse. But Lamb was written in 1981 and this wouldn’t have seemed as odd an omission over 30 years ago. Regardless, it doesn’t feature in this heartbreaking story of Michael Lamb who runs from the school he teaches in and takes with him a 12 year old boy he has befriended who has severe epilepsy in the hope that they can both find better lives. Michael is hoping to save Owen and in doing so, save himself, but the outside world inevitably closes in and Michael’s solution is bleak and uncompromising, but driven solely by his love for Owen.

It was motivated by love. It would be a pure. Of this he was sure.


8. Cathy and Heathcliff
From Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

It may seem strange to include Cathy and Heathcliff in this list, given they are often seen as the most romantic of doomed lovers. A lot of that perception has to do with the film versions, which show them as adults. In fact, in the book, they are inseparable friends from the age of 6 and Catherine is a mere 15 when she decides to marry Edgar with the immature request that he allow her and Heathcliff to continue as they have for most of their lives. ‘Well, if I cannot keep Heathcliff for my friend––if Edgar will be mean and jealous, I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own’ No one understands them the way they understand each other to the point that Catherine sees them as being one person and that person cannot be denied.

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.


9. Richard, Henry, Francis, Charles and Camilla
From The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is probably not the best example of friendship as it exists to nurture and create a loving environment. This is the dark side of close friendship, where a lack of boundaries, too much information and a tendency to bully can have far reaching and dangerous consequences. Henry, Richard, Francis, Charles and Camilla support, help and lie for one another, trapped in a cold complicity, Theirs is undoubtedly a friendship, but one with sinister and disturbing ends.

The idea of living there, of not having to go back ever again to asphalt and shopping malls and modular furniture; of living there with Charles and Camilla and Henry and Francis and maybe even Bunny; of no one marrying or going home or getting a job in a town a thousand miles away or doing any of the traitorous things friends do after college; of everything remaining exactly as it was, that instant – the idea was so truly heavenly that I’m not sure I thought, even then, it could ever really happen, but I like to believe I did.


10. Chris and Gordie
From The Body by Stephen King
I read The Body after falling in love with the movie version Stand By Me back in the 1980’s. Both seem to capture perfectly that precarious moment between childhood and adulthood when you are trying to hold on to one whilst simultaneously reaching for the other. The boys banter and ribbing give way to a lovely, nurturing friendship where Chris and Gordie buoy each other u and become each other’s support systems in place of family. It’s a friendship told through rose tinted glasses to be sure, but it’s an unforgettable one.

We were clinging to each other in deep water. I’ve explained about Chris, I think: my reasons for clinging to him were less definable. His desire to get away from Castle Rock and out of the mill’s shadow seemed to me to be my best part, and I could not just leave him to sink or swim on his own. If he had drowned, that part of me would have drowned with him, I think.

So, who are your favourite friendships in literature? Any particularly great ones I’ve overlooked? Do let me know what you think.



Top Ten Tuesday

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

48 Comments Leave a comment

  1. How about the friendships in The Goonies or Hearts in Atlantis ? I loved A prayer for Owen Meany. I’m in the middle of reading The Secret History where the friendship between these five is disburbing to say the least but friendship nonetheless. Good post.


  2. What great list, Cathy! So well thought out. When asked questions like this, I always just draw a blank. I loved reading about each one, either being reminded of books I have read, or making me want to read the ones I haven’t. Friendship is such a great theme in books. The possibilities are endless. I am now anxious to see what others have included on their lists!


  3. I haven’t read many of the books on your list, but I absolutely love that you’ve gone into so much detail. I really need to read Wuthering Heights!


  4. Thanks for a very interesting post – great choices, and I like the way you’ve chosen to highlight different aspects of friendship, the lighter and darker sides.
    I completely agree with you on Cathy and Heathcliff. I don’t know if you’ve seen Andrea Arnold’s version of Wuthering Heights, but the first half of her film focuses on this friendship (more so than I recall from other adaptations).
    Funnily enough, I’m about to reread Tales of the City as it’s our book group’s choice for this month. I first read it over 20 years ago, so I’m interested to see how it stands up now!
    And I’ve just discovered a new favourite friendship. I’ve been reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and its sequel, The Story of a New Name. These books give a rich, vivid and nuanced portrayal of friendship between two girls growing up in 1960s Naples. If you’re interested, I’ll be reviewing them fairly soon.


    • I haven’t seen the Andrea Arnold movie, but have read that it’s truer to the book in that it focuses on their childhood. I haven’t reread Tales in about 10 years, but I have such a soft spot for those novels. Enjoy! I look forward to reading your reviews on the Elena Ferrante books, they sound great.


  5. Although the story doesn’t feature a frienship directly it is very much the embodiment of one: Steinbeck’s friendship with Ed Ricketts is tangible in Cannery Row.

    And then there’s Patrick O’Brian’s under-appreciated Aubrey-Maturin series, excellent enough as a historical narrative but superb in its depiction of the bond between the taciturn physician/spy and the boisterous naval officer.


    • I’ve never read Patrick O’Brien although my Dad loved them. I almost included George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men, but as always with these lists, I could include twice as many and still have a few to spare!


  6. Interesting list. Like many I regard the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff as one of lovers but after reading your take on it I may have to go back and re-read it to see how nuanced it is. Perhaps soulmates is a better term for them than lovers since it has different connotations.


  7. Great take on this topic!
    I almost put Secret History on my list–as an example of the power of friendship that can go horribly wrong.
    I’ve had Prayer For Owen Meany on my TBR list forever–I really want to try to get to it this summer.


  8. I like the way this list is so diverse and encompasses so many different aspects of friendship, ones that I would never have thought of, such as The Secret History and Wuthering Heights. A very original take on the topic.


  9. LOVE this list! I share the opinions of others that some great tales of friendship are cautionary/darker tales of where it can go wrong. This list also made me realize that I read a lot of books about loners and should perhaps branch out a bit 🙂 -Tania


  10. I also have The Secret History on my list this week, and I had Owen Meany but at that point it was something like number 15, so it got cut with all the others. I had so much fun with this list! I love that you took a broader perspective on the idea of friendship with your choices.


    • Thanks Priscilla, I must check your list out. I’ve realised that I got it wrong this week, it was books about friendship, but I went for literary friendships. Only realised once I had it written!


  11. I have read one book out of this list, and that is Wuthering Heights. I’ve never thought about them as friends because I’ve always known them as a couple that never was. Though come to think of it, they were childhood friends, weren’t they?


    • It wasn’t until I read an article that reminded my that Cathy and Heathcliff were 6 when they met and were each others only childhood friend until Catherine married Edgar at a mere 15! It changed how I thought about the whole story.


  12. I’m a bit stumped for ideas at the moment – always the way when you are really trying to think of good ones. But, I did think of Jo and Laurie from Little Women, and then later when Jo meets Fritz I think they were friends first before thoughts of love entered into things. And of course there’s Christopher Robin and Pooh..(and Piglet and Eyore) if we can go back to the realms of childhood.


  13. What a unique list! I wouldn’t have thought of some of these relationships such as in Fight Club and The Body. Really good choices.


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