Just got my hands Cathy Kelly’s old book, Best of Friends. Despite the book being nearly a decade old, one can easily connect to it. To be very honest, I had put the book down after reading the first chapter, as initially, it did not entice me as much as Kelly’s other books. But, it was impossible to put it down once I got through the first two chapters, after which, all the women reading this would definitely be able to see themselves in one of the four lead characters, be it Abby Barton, Jess Barton, Erin Flynn, or Lizzie Shannahan.
All these four women are leading their own lives: While Abby’s TV career is at its peak, her marriage is rocky; her sixteen year old daughter is in the worst of her age where she is stuck between being a child and a young adult; Erin returns to Dunmore after nearly a decade with her husband, but she does not want to face her past; Lizzie has time for everyone in her life, even her ex-husband Myles, but for herself. But when tragedy strikes this town, these four women come together to realise the value of life and how they need to grab it with both hands.
The best part of this book is its narrative pattern, which is very distinct for each character in the novel. The pattern keeps changing as it follows each of the characters’ story. When Kelly describes Jess and her problems, one feels as if that part of the novel is actually written by a young adult who sees everything in black & white; who is desperate to let people know that she is a grown up and does not need supervision 24/7. This kind of narrative beautifies the entire process of reading and understanding the character.
On the flip side, the title of the novel is a little deceiving because more than friendship, this book is about life and its importance and how, at every stage of our lives, we take life for granted, how we take our relationships for granted. Yes, it is true that these four women find solace in each other’s company and yet, they do not discuss their problems with each other, as best of friends would. Lizzie hides the fact that she does not want to stay with her 23-year-old divorced daughter, but wants a life of her own; Abby, on the other hand hides the facts about her estranged marriage and the problems she was facing having a teenage daughter; Jess throws herself into a closed shell after her parents’ separation and refuses to accept things as they are; while Erin hardly discusses her lost family with her friends.
Another character that is very nicely woven into the story is that of Sally Richardson. though a small character who dies half way through the book, it is Sally and her death that brings all the characters together and binds the entire narrative into a story. through this character, Kelly touches the sensitive are of breast cancer and how such an illness will not only affect the patient but will touch the lives of all the people around her as well. Kelly has very sensitively dealt with the issue of breast cancer and in a subtle manner.
Best of Friends is a must read for all women.
Radhika Chhotai Kotecha