Real life ousts gloss

Nicky Pellegrino finds real women welcome change from Sex and the City types.

Emily Gould's compelling characters are portrayed with skill.
Emily Gould's compelling characters are portrayed with skill.

Emily Gould's compelling characters are portrayed with skill. True-to-life female characters are what it's all about right now. Forget your glossy, over-shoed Carrie Bradshaws, this decade we're having a reality check.

Friendship (Virago), the fiction debut from United States writer Emily Gould, is a novel about the everyday struggles of two New York women, best friends Bev Tunney and Amy Shein. It begins as they are turning 30 and beginning to realise that life is not turning out the way they expected, and they are failing at it.

Bev has split from her boyfriend and dropped out of grad school. Now she's unemployed, in debt and working as an office temp.

Amy has tasted success after becoming momentarily notorious online, but is stuck in a job that bores her, working on a Jewish website called Yidster. She's also in a relationship that isn't going anywhere.

Both women know there are better things they could be doing. They just haven't figured out what they are.

The third real-female character, Sally Katzen, is older and wealthy yet still in the same state of trying to work out who she wants to be. Living in a beautiful home in upstate New York, she and her magazine editor husband are trying to have a baby. But deep down Sally isn't satisfied with the way life has turned out.

This is where things start getting a little contrived. Bev and Amy meet Sally when they end up house-sitting for her. Then Bev gets pregnant as a result of a one-night stand and the obvious solution presents itself. Although things aren't tied up as neatly as all that, the plot certainly isn't the strength of this novel.

Gould excels in her portrayal of relationships, in particular female friendships, which can be tricky things. She captures their many nuances in a way that is emotionally truthful, witty and insightful. Amy and Bev support each other, understand each other and sometimes don't like each other all that much. Their lives are, for the most part, relatable, although there were times I lost patience with all the whining and First-World problems.

Thanks to the internet, Gould is a noisy voice of her generation. She's a former editor of the news and gossip website Gawker, an inveterate blogger at emilymagazine.com and the founder of an e-book club called Emily Books.

It's clear from her blog posts and journalism that there are parallels between her own life and the character of Amy. Just like her, Gould has been notorious online, quit jobs, split from a boyfriend and relied on a girlfriend. Friendship is all in the third-person but there is a blogginess to the writing, perhaps because so much of the story and the thinking that goes on in it feels real.

Still this is the era of the selfie, so perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that fiction writers seem increasingly to be holding up mirrors to their own lives. And I'd have to say that Gould has excelled at observing herself then adapting those observations into a story that feels authentic and very much of the moment.

- Herald on Sunday

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