Best Of Friends- Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury Circus 2022)

I loved Kamila Shamsie’s last novel, the 2018 Women’s Prize For Fiction winning “Home Fire” placing it at number 6 in my 2017 Books Of The Year.  Although based on the Ancient Greek myth of Antigone it felt extremely relevant to our world.  There were some big themes tackled and I said that the author “is educating, entertaining and gripping her readers in a manner which explores the potential of the plot in eye-opening, thought-provoking ways.”

No wonder I was looking forward to reading this.  It feels a much less ambitious work, a quieter novel but it still managed to impress.  The best friends are Zahra and Maryam and we first meet them in Karachi in 1988 as two fourteen year olds negotiating adolescence and kissing posters of George Michael.  Their friendship has been strong for years, Zahra is keen to point out the difference between their own close bond with a word she has found in the dictionary “Propinquity- a relationship based on proximity” which is what they feel they have with others.

The first half explores the potential minefields of teenage life for two girls in late 1980s Pakistan excellently.  It feels pitch-perfect, Zahra is coming to terms with physical changes and feelings, the awkwardness and newness of which will bring shudders of recognition.  Maryam, more privileged, feels that her future is mapped out for the with a family leather goods business and a grandfather who sees in her the abilities to take the business on.  She plays cricket with his employees, is popular and has more vision than her own father.  The girls sense new beginnings with the ascendancy of Benazir Bhutto until an event takes them into an unexpected direction.

The second part of the novel takes us to London in 2019 where the friends are now living very different lives.  How far are they the products of their past experience?  The second half is unsurprisingly more political as they attempt to improve the adult world they felt let them down as teenagers, but will their friendship survive?

I loved the first half and enjoyed the second half but for me the novel’s strength is in their teenage Karachi days exploring the girls’ strongly forged friendship with all its intensities and experiences together with the limitations that their environment places on them.  This feels magnified by the bombardment of the myriad mixed messages of their Pakistani upbringing which the author skilfully conveys.

Best Of Friends is published by Bloomsbury Circus on September 27th 2022.   Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.

One thought on “Best Of Friends- Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury Circus 2022)

  1. Monika McKay

    this is fascinating.for one thing growing up in society where males CAN DO MOST, and a transition to living here.LIVING HERE MUST HAVE FELT LIBERATING, can do what they want, as long as not breaking laws.They can work, dress differently,they both live in a liberal society NOT RESTRICTED by their religion.I personally know families of born Pakistanis heritage and GIRLS cannot EVEN SPEAK FLUENT ENGLISH. They speak in their own lingo, 2 bros born here and mingle with brits, they speak flawless english, often one of them negotiates with outside world on vbehalf of his older sister…

    what must be fascinating how a Pakistani girl born outside navigates life living here, if she chooses ease up on religious it is COUNTRY THESE PAKISTANIS LIVE depending mostly on gender.I would personally wish my daughter and son have equal opps and chose themselves how to conduct their lives. who they wanna live with.Live and let live,I say.dont complicates lives with religion. I mean I am a Christian, live my life to the full, I don’t NEED some proscription or a religion to be suffocated with, myself.I by and large follow Christian life, but NOT A HARD LINE RELIGIOUS LIFE.Men coming from societies where proscription is a norm, come here and DONT REALISE, women here dont live live like there and often mistake the differences here and there.a recipe for a crime.and I should know read police files on and on and the clue was a religion..


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