Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us and we’re feeling very loved up here at The Willoughby Book Club. As well as having our love of reading in common, we also pride ourselves on the relationships we have built within our little nook of the bookish community. Friendships and family relationships can be wonderful and strange and wonderfully strange!
There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
With this in mind, we wanted to share with you some of our favourite relationships in novels that have stuck with us, through thick and thin. For, while we do enjoy a romantic relationship, we LOVE a book that explores the unshakeable, sometimes complicated and messy, funny, heart-breaking, and profound platonic and familial relationships of these characters’ lives.
For me, I adored the self-made sisterhood between the characters of The Red Word by Sarah Henstra. It was easily one of my favourite books of the last year. There was something so interesting and dynamic about their group.
There were (many) complications in their relations with one another, but I enjoyed reading about a friendship from its root beginning, where it involves an individual joining an already established group. Finding one’s place in the world can be tough and the main character’s future life is shaped by the uniquely bold, headstrong, witchy and, ultimately, fiercely loving forces within the group.
They annoy and enrage the protagonist, they clash, but they also allow her to be completely herself in their presence. They hold a mirror up for her, challenge her core ideas, but still love her in their own way.
Alisha and Marianne loved The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. We don’t often read about human-animal friendships but their existence is very real and often exist on a separate, different level to most human-human relationships. In The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Arikawa uses the cat’s narration to explore their story of selflessness, memory and humour.
“I love the relationship between Satoru and his cat. Through their relationship we see vignettes of the lives of Satoru’s friends, and greater truths about friendship, love and loyalty are revealed. Obviously I’m cat-obsessed, but it’s a very lovely little book!”
Alisha explained that the book:
“…shows how much someone can love their pet and how much a pet can love their owner. Sometimes that kind of love can be overlooked or it’s seen as not as important, but a pet is part of the family and it really shows in this book.”
Amy really enjoys Ann Cleeve’s Vera crime series. The relationships between D.I. Vera Stanhope and her colleagues at the Northumbria Police Force are humorous and Amy loves the often light-hearted contrast of their family-like dynamic with the darker elements of the series.
“You spend most of your time with your work colleagues than you do your family or friends, so it is fun to read about that particular type of relationship in fiction. Colleagues see you at your best and your worst and that isn’t always the case with other relationships. “
Rhiannon reads broadly and says:
“I’m a sap, so I love reading about all kinds of love. However, I have to choose just one to talk about here and I’m going with platonic love, more specifically the trope of ‘found family’.
If you’re not familiar with this, though I can guarantee you’ve almost certainly come across it at some point be it in literature, films or TV, ‘found family’ is basically what is says on the tin. It’s when a character, who is usually either orphaned or doesn’t receive love and support from their biological family or guardians, forges strong friendships with a group who become their family of choice.
I enjoy the found family trope because of the character development it initiates. We see characters learn to trust, to depend on and support others, find what makes them happy and so much more. A great example of a found family is Locke Lamora’s band of thieves and con artists in Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, but a more recognisable one is The Golden Trio from Harry Potter!”
In fiction, we find friendships forged, maintained and sometimes broken. We find family dynamics tested and changed, added to and taken away from. Above all, we find in the fictional characters something that speaks to us of our own relationships and the hundreds of invisible strands that bond us together.
No man or woman or cat is an island. Happy Valentine’s Day, readers.
What relationships have you enjoyed reading about recently? Let us know in the comments!