The Next Chapter

Lisa Gabriele recommends 3 novels that explore female friendships

The author of The Winters reviews Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud and How Could She by Lauren Mechling.
Lisa Gabriele is a novelist, television producer and journalist originally from Windsor, Ont. (Viking, Doubleday Canada, Knopf Random Vintage Canada, CBC)
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Female friendships can take many different shapes — whether it's unbreakable life bonds, brief connections with bright flame-outs or a range of permutations in between. 

Lisa Gabriele is the author of The Winters — a novel inspired by Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca — and she is also an astute reader of female friendships — both on and off the page.

Gabriele stopped by The Next Chapter to talk about three novels that deal with female friendships. 

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid is the author of Daisy Jones & The Six. (Deborah Feingold, Doubleday Canada)

"This book got a lot of buzz and attention earlier this year. It was anointed by Reese Witherspoon, who scooped up the TV rights. It's about Daisy Jones, a Stevie Nicks-like figure in the 1970s who's a rising singer-songwriter. She teams up with The Six, a band led by two hot brothers named Billy and Graham. The fictional band feels like a real-world group much like Fleetwood Mac.

It's about female rivalries, female friendships and female art — and how the women in this book navigate that.

"It's written in a first-person interview style, like you're reading a transcript. They're now elderly and they're all recalling this particular summer when the band went on tour with their biggest album and ended up flaming out and dispersing after a big fight. So there's a mystery and a love story there.

"But really it's about female rivalries, female friendships and female art — and how the women in this book navigate that." 

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Claire Messud is a novelist and literature and creative writing professor. (Ulf Andersen, Knopf Random Vintage Canada)

"This book looks at the darker side of female rivalry. It's about a woman named Nora Eldridge who is an elementary school teacher. She's single, bitter, lonely and is taking care of a widowed father. She meets a glamorous family made up of an adorable child, a husband who is an academic and a wife who is an artist. It ignites in Nora a need to be an artist as well. Serena and her become friends and Serena suggests that Nora shares a studio together to create art. 

I also loved the fact that it wasn't really about nice women; it was about women both trying to make art and navigating those rivalries between each other.

"But Nora falls madly in love with Serena. She doesn't quite see it at first, or you don't think she does. But you start to realize that actually Serena has known this all along. I don't want to give away the ending, but it does read like a mystery. There is a bitter turn at the end involving a massive deception and betrayal that left me floored and gutted.

"I loved this book for the juiciness of their female relationship. I loved it for the darkness that it unpacked for readers. And I also loved the fact that it wasn't really about nice women; it was about women both trying to make art and navigating those rivalries between each other. It's a marvellous book."

How Could She by Lauren Mechling

Lauren Mechling is an author based in New York. (Nina Suban, Viking)

"Known as a YA author, this is Mechling's first adult novel. It concerns a trio of women — Sunny, Geraldine and Rachel — who all meet in their 20s, working at a newspaper in Toronto. What I loved about this book is that it depicted female friendships and how they form at work when you're young.

"Those rivalries are inherent and in the beginning where these three women are all on each other's side and they're finding their way. But three-people friendships are tricky and the women are always triangulating; in the beginning of their friendship there was always two against one. You never quite knew who was coupled up with who and talking about the other one.

It's a chess game of a book: It's funny, it's dark, it's satirical.

"The book starts almost 10 years later and they've each experienced a measure of success. But Geraldine is really the heart and soul of the book. She's in her 30s living in Toronto and decides she's going to move to New York to where the other ones are. All sorts of dramas unfold from that move. Geraldine unseats and unsettles Sunny and Rachel who have been neatly ensconced in New York in their little worlds.

"None of the women end up in the same place that they started at. It's a chess game of a book: It's funny, it's dark, it's satirical. The friendships between the women by the end has shifted dramatically. It is a deceptively light novel — there are some gut punches in it — but I enjoyed it completely." 

Lisa Gabriele's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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