The best novels about complex female friendship

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Australian writer with a passion for literary fiction, especially novels centered on complex and multi-layered power dynamics. To me, relationships between women are particularly ripe for this kind of exploration – my own friendships with other women have been influential and formative, but not always easy! My interest in these darker and more complex dynamics of close friendship eventually led me to write my own novel on the topic. I’ve also published a range of essays, reviews, criticism, and creative nonfiction. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Between You and Me

What is my book about?

Mari and Elisabeth have been at the centre of each other’s lives for years. Close friends since university, they’re now drifting through their mid-twenties, working casual jobs and living in run-down share houses. When they meet Jack, a charming academic historian twenty years their senior, they’re attracted to the sophisticated, intellectual world in which he seems to move. As the summer gathers heat, Jack is drawn into their lives, and an unconventional relationship – halfway between friendship and love triangle – develops. But soon things grow more complicated, and as secrets and betrayals detonate, the fallout sets the course for the rest of their lives. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Nothing Special

Joanna Horton Why did I love this book?

Nothing Special follows Mae, a teenager in 1967, who drops out of school and becomes a typist in Andy Warhol’s Factory studio.

Transcribing taped conversations of Warhol and his contemporaries, Mae feels like she’s entered a new world – along with Shelley, a fellow typist who soon becomes a close friend. But is Shelley all she seems? This is a closely observed psychological novel exploring what it means to truly know another person, and how much we have the right to expect from our friends.

The writing zips along effortlessly, driven by Mae’s poised, ironic voice, which expertly captures the ersatz confidence of being young.  

By Nicole Flattery,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Special as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2023 HIGHLIGHT FOR: THE TIMES * TELEGRAPH * STYLIST * GQ * GUARDIAN * HARPER'S BAZAAR * GOOD HOUSEKEEPING * WATERSTONES * i-D * IRISH TIMES * HUFFINGTON POST UK _______________ 'A blade-sharp coming-of-age novel' SPECTATOR 'Confirms Flattery as a bracingly original writer' IRISH INDEPENDENT 'In enviably elegant prose, she manages to be both arch and deadly serious' LOUISE KENNEDY _______________ A wildly original debut novel about two young women navigating the complex worlds of Andy Warhol's Factory, and coming of age in 1960s New York New York City, 1966. Seventeen-year-old Mae lives in a run-down apartment with her…


Book cover of Conversations with Friends

Joanna Horton Why did I love this book?

I devoured Sally Rooney’s debut in a single day when it came out in 2017.

I remember being blown away by her ability to effortlessly convey the depth and complexity of close relationships – particularly the dynamic between narrator Frances, a coolly ironic 21-year-old student, and her ex-girlfriend-now-best-friend-but-maybe-still-romantic-interest, Bobbi.

I loved Conversations with Friends not only for its three-dimensional characters and beautifully precise writing, but also for how true to life it felt. It was the first time I had read a novel that really captured the way my friends and I spoke, thought, and behaved – a thrilling experience. 

By Sally Rooney,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Conversations with Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

***NOW ON BBC THREE AND iPLAYER***

'This book. This book. I read it in one day. I hear I'm not alone.'
- Sarah Jessica Parker (Instagram)

'Brilliant, funny and startling.' Guardian

'I really like Conversations with Friends. I like the tone [Rooney] takes when she's writing. I think it's like being inside someone's mind.' - Taylor Swift

'A sharp, darkly funny comment on modern relationships.' Sunday Telegraph

Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed and observant. A student in Dublin and an aspiring writer, at night she performs spoken word with her best friend Bobbi, who used to be her girlfriend.…


Book cover of The Strays

Joanna Horton Why did I love this book?

If you like lushly written literary fiction about art, desire, friendship, and ambition, you’ll love The Strays.

Lily and Eva meet as children, and Eva – the daughter of a famous modernist artist – soon draws solitary Lily into her avant-garde family life. As the years pass and the two begin to leave childhood behind, their relationship makes new demands of them both.

Although The Strays features a large cast of characters in its makeshift family of artists, the connection between Eva and Lily is the beating heart of the novel, and is by turns tender, destructive, and tragic. 

By Emily Bitto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Strays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Disturbing and magical....with a grace and eloquence." - NPR Books

"Full of lush, mesmerizing detail and keen insight into the easy intimacy between young girls which disappears with adulthood." -- The New Yorker

"The Strays is a knowing novel, and beautifully done." -- Meg Wolitzer, New York Times bestselling author of The Interestings

For readers of Atonement, a hauntingly powerful story about the fierce friendship between three sisters and their friend as they grow up on the outskirts of their parents' wild and bohemian artistic lives.

On her first day at a new school, Lily befriends Eva and her sisters…


Book cover of The Last of Her Kind

Joanna Horton Why did I love this book?

The Last of Her Kind is an expansive and compelling portrait of the connection between two college roommates, set against the backdrop of 1960s counterculture.

Both main characters – George, who is trying to shed her working-class origins, and Ann, desperate to disavow her wealthy family – are handled with sympathy and nuance. The historical setting is expertly researched without being heavy-handed, and the plot features at least one huge twist that you won’t see coming.

Although this is a long book, I enjoyed it so much that I had to ration myself not to read it all at once.  

By Sigrid Nunez,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last of Her Kind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is Columbia University, 1968. Ann Drayton and Georgette George meet as roommates on the first night. Ann is rich and radical; Georgette, the narrator of "The Last Of Her Kind", is leery and introverted, a child of the very poverty and strife her new friend finds so noble. The two are drawn together intensely by their differences; two years later, after a violent fight, they part ways. When, in 1976, Ann is convicted of killing a New York cop, Georgette comes back to their shared history in search of an explanation. She finds a riddle of a life, shaped…


Book cover of The Weekend

Joanna Horton Why did I love this book?

While many novels about female friendship focus on young women, The Weekend follows three women in their seventies, whose decades-long friendship has sustained them through illness, infidelity, divorce – and recently the death of their fourth close friend, Sylvie.

Drawn together over a weekend to clear out Sylvie’s house, the remaining women must grapple with their shared past and uncertain future. I loved this glimpse into the lives of older women – a reality not often portrayed in fiction – and admired Wood’s ability to make each of her three narrators flawed, relatable, and human.

If you like immersive character-driven novels, this book won’t disappoint.

By Charlotte Wood,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Weekend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2020 Stella Prize

People went on about death bringing friends together, but it wasn't true. The graveyard, the stony dirt - that's what it was like now . . . Despite the three women knowing each other better than their own siblings, Sylvie's death had opened up strange caverns of distance between them.

Four older women have a lifelong friendship of the best kind: loving, practical, frank and steadfast. But when Sylvie dies, the ground shifts dangerously for the remaining three. Can they survive together without her?

They are Jude, a once-famous restaurateur, Wendy, an acclaimed public…


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Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

Book cover of Shahrazad's Gift

Gretchen McCullough Author Of Shahrazad's Gift

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a fiction writer and currently live in Cairo, where I have lived for over twenty years. I noticed that the way I started telling stories was influenced by learning Arabic and by listening to the stories of the people in the city. My interest in Arabic also led me to read Arabic literature, like A Thousand and One Nights.   

Gretchen's book list on books influenced by Thousand and One Nights

What is my book about?

Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo — magical, absurd, and humorous.

The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.

Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

What is this book about?

Shahrazad's Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo-magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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