The Next Chapter

Claire Messud ponders the frailty of childhood friendships

The New York Times bestselling author explores the fickle side of relationships and girlhood in The Burning Girl.
Claire Messud is a creative writing professor and the author of eight novels. (W.W. Norton & Company/Canadian Press)

​Intense girlhood friendships are a staple in the lives of many young women. There's a friendship like this at the centre of Claire Messud's novel The Burning Girl. As often happens, two friends enter junior high and drift apart. And as natural as this may seem on the surface, in Messud's hands, a deep story emerges of class and psychology.

Bonding issues 

"One of the things I was trying to capture was the petering away of friends. I had this experience of coming unstuck from my best friends. In one case it was because we moved continents — I was allowed to live with the romantic belief that we would have been best friends forever if I hadn't left Australia. But in other cases there were friendships that suddenly came to an end and I never knew why and I don't know why to this day." 

Questioning weaknesses

"There is a physical sense of vulnerability that girls are trained into from very early. We absorb these narratives daily on the news, the books we read or the films we see — we understand that girls' bodies are vulnerable, and that's part of growing up. You can choose to reject those stories and fight against them, but most of us adjust the way we move in the world accordingly."   

Different generations, similar experiences

"Everyone talks about how things are so different for this generation and social media has changed things forever. It is certainly true there are new ways of communicating, there are new perils and the possibilities for bullying on social media are very profound. But there are other things that haven't changed. The emotions that young girls have about their friendships in those years with so much change and tumult — those emotions were very recognizable for me." 

Claire Messud's comments have been edited and condensed.