Healthy and complicated friendships in adult fiction

It’s long been known that these days, the family unit is just as readily made up of friends as it is of a partner, children and pets. Finding and maintaining loyal and supportive friendships can be a lifesaver, and dealing with untrustworthy or manipulative friends can cause heartbreak.

We’ve pulled together a list of some of our favourite books that explore all the nuances and potential complications of adult friendships. Check out our post on healthy and complicated friendships in YA fiction here.



Baby by Annaleese Jochems

Cynthia, bored, 21, runs away with Anahera, her older, on-the-brink-of-divorce fitness instructor. Together, they steal $64,000 and buy a boat – so begins a sunburnt psychological thriller of obsession and escape by one of the most exciting new voices in New Zealand fiction. On board the boat, Cynthia’s preoccupation with Anahera spirals out of control and sets in motion a series of twisted events with disastrous consequences. Baby explores the complex, layered and often grey areas of female friendships and relationships adeptly. Cynthia’s obsession, Anahera’s ambivalence – it’s all captured in beautiful, claustrophobic, tense writing.


Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon is an author who has developed a profound ability to map the complex interior lives of men in fiction. In Telegraph Avenue, an intimate epic that pulses with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all of its own, a strong friendship is tested. When former star quarterback Gibson Goode announces plans to dump his latest Dogpile megastore on Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear the worst for their vulnerable little enterprise, Brokeland Records, as behind Goode’s proposal lurks a nefarious scheme. The two lifelong friends suddenly find themselves caught up in a professional battle that tests their friendship; and they wonder if it is damaged beyond repair.


My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

One would hope that for most of us, if we decided to take enough medication that would allow us to sleep for a year (as the nameless protagonist does in My Year of Rest and Relaxation), that those nearest and dearest to us would pop up a hand and say, ‘Don’t you think you should not do that?’ The word ‘enabler’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. The dynamic between the sleeping protagonist and her so-called best friend, the WASP-y Reva, is fascinating; perfectly illustrating the delicate balance in so many complicated friendships – do we need or even like each other, or are we just used to each other? It’s an interesting force in a complex, layered novel.


Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk ’s Fight Club is a visionary satire and an iconic debut. Originally published in 1996, it almost needs no introduction – after all, that’s breaking the first rule of Fight Club. It makes this list because of the truly toxic relationship between its two central characters; the legendary, charismatic Tyler Durden and the insomniac narrator. As the narrator is swept up in Durden’s extremist ideologies (‘We’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world’), his dependency on him grows, blurring the lines between dream and reality. The result is a relationship that is violently destructive, and so, so readable.



A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story of companionship and solidarity, set in Afghanistan. These two women go through a lot, but their bond is poignant and profound. It shows that love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism. From the author of The Kite Runner.


Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman

Following years of unrequited love, an out-of-work school teacher takes matters into his own hands, kidnapping his ex-girlfriend’s child and triggering a chain of events neither he nor his psychiatrist could have anticipated. The story is of course compelling on its own, but at the heart of Seven Types of Ambiguity is a bond between patient and psychiatrist that moves from professional relationship to truly touching friendship. Perlman, who is an international bestseller and prize winner, explores the grey area of friendships – how do we respond when our friends do something morally ambiguous? – deftly.


Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie is a girl on the edge of a nervous breakdown. She was named to be queen of the world – so why can’t she rule her own life? There’s much to relate to in Queenie; as much her darkly comic way of navigating her changing circumstances as her the warm and hilarious dynamic between her and her friends. After all, these are the times we need our friends the most.


The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein

It would be an incomplete list without mentioning Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, and Merry and Pippin (the list goes on). Tolkein’s vast, sweeping epic may be a glorious battle between good and the forces of evil, but arguably one of its major strengths (and there are plenty) is the way it explores the sincere bond of these characters in the face of extraordinary hardships. Many a tear will be shed as Sam refuses to let Frodo leave for Mordor alone, or as Legolas and Gimli fight side by side despite their respective cultures' long history of animosity. Remarkable that a story filled with elves, goblins, winged fellbeasts and orcs finds what is so distinctly human and can explore all the facets of platonic love with such nuance.

Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue

Michael Chabon

$19.99Buy now

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