Friendships between women are incredibly important, but what happens when they go awry? Lucie Whitehouse explores this question in her newest novel, Keep You Close, about the suspicious death of Marianne Glass, and the reaction of her former best friend Rowan Winter. Will Rowan be able to find out what really happened to her friend by talking to her surviving peers? Here, in honor the the release of her book, Whitehouse shares her favorite twisted female friendships in fiction.
A real friendship is as life-changing as any love affair. Our friends support us, shape us, and share our lives—sometimes from beginning to end. We confide in them, telling them the secrets we hesitate to even share with our partners. As the writing subject to a psychological suspense writer, friendship brings other gifts. The characteristics of a valuable friendship (the closeness, intensity, and power to shape a life) can be subverted into a relationship that is incredibly dangerous, even deadly. Here are eight of my favorite novels featuring chillingly destructive friendships.
“I know who killed him” says the note pinned to the Secret Place, where girls at an exclusive Dublin boarding school anonymously share their private thoughts. The board was designed as a vent for turbulent emotions after the death of Chris Harper, a pupil at the neighboring boys’ school. Instead, it becomes the trigger for a high-pressure police investigation that takes the reader inside the friendship of five girls so close their shared mental energy shatters light-bulbs, so close it might have been worth killing for.
In a poor neighborhood of Naples in the ‘50s, Lila tosses Lenù’s beloved doll through a grate into the basement of the terrifying Don Carrachi—loan shark, gangster, and “ogre of nightmares”—then dares her to climb the stairs to his door. It’s the start of a friendship depicted in exacting psychological detail over the 50-odd years and four books of Elena Ferrante’s wonderful Neapolitan tetralogy. The friendship defines the women’s lives; neither would be who she is without the other. While they inspire and love each other (occasionally), each visits cruelty and pain on the other, sometimes unwittingly but often by design.
Hannah Dexter, “interesting as a bowl of oatmeal,” is trudging through high school in Battle Creek, New Jersey, when a chance humiliation at the hands of Nikki Drummond, school queen and vicious bully, delivers her to new girl Lacey. It’s 1991 and Lacey’s gods are grunge, Seattle, Kurt Cobain. That first day, she renames Hannah “Dex” and molds her into “a different girl, my own opposite.” Lacey is exhilarating, the kind of friend Hannah never let herself dream of having, but she has serious problems, and by letting her in, Hannah opens the door to the kind of darkness of which nightmares are made. Full of anger, passion, and pity, Girls on Fire doesn’t flinch from the shocking details of a troubled friendship.
Nina is an artist, refined and in control, mother to a teenage girl; Emma, once a TV producer, is now the harassed mother of a toddler and expecting another. When they meet in North London, Nina extends the hand of friendship and Emma, flattered, grateful for a glimpse of the sophisticated adult life she’s left behind, allows herself to be drawn into Nina’s world. But the two have met before, long ago, a fact Nina remembers, even if Emma doesn’t. What does Nina want, and how far will she go to achieve it? From the beginning, terror lurks in Harriet Lane’s skillful depiction of a manipulator at work.
Lizzie and Evie are thirteen, neighbors as long as they’ve been alive, best friends who know each other “bone-deep”—or so Lizzie thinks. When Evie disappears one day, vanishing from the curb on a shimmering summer’s afternoon, it becomes clear that she hasn’t told Lizzie everything. But grilled by the police, Evie’s desperate father, and beautiful, enigmatic older sister Dusty, Lizzie develops an unusual relationship with the truth, too. She wants Evie back, of course, but at the same time, her new position has powerful perks, not least more time with Evie’s father…
At the heart of this vintage-Atwood novel is the relationship between the protagonist Elaine and her childhood friend and tormentor, Cordelia. Elaine is a painter who, returning to Toronto at 50 for a retrospective of her work, also embarks on a personal retrospective of her past. Moving to the city as a naïve child, she had idolized the sophisticated but wild Cordelia and allowed herself to be molded and then terrorized by her to the point of narrowly escaping with her life. But their relationship hadn’t ended there, and Cordelia isn’t always the one with the upper hand.
Elizabeth Vetch, a writer of popular historical fiction, is in a London taxi when she catches sight of a woman she hasn’t seen for nearly twenty years. Despite the terrible things that happened between them years ago at “The House of Stairs” in Notting Hill in the swinging ‘60s, she hops out of the cab to pursue her. Their old friendship is rekindled but with horrifying results because charismatic, amoral Christabel Sanger—“Bell”—is a murderer, just released from prison. Barbara Vine, alter ego of crime writer Ruth Rendell, is one of my favorite writers of psychological suspense, combining superb writing with profound insight into the dark places of the human mind.
Lucie Whitehouse was born in Gloucestershire in 1975, read Classics at Oxford University and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of The House at Midnight, the TV Book Club pick The Bed I Made and Before We Met, which was a Richard & Judy Summer Book Club pick and an ITV3 Crime Thriller selection.