Review of 'Best of Friends' - Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. Having read Home Fires during the first lockdown when my friend and I were at the peak of our book swapping spree, and then being given A God In Every Stone as my book group Secret Santa present, when I saw she had a new book out, I was drawn to it even before I'd read the blurb.
It felt like something of a departure to begin with because I was waiting for something especially traumatic to happen to kick start the inevitable chain of events. When I past the incident that I had thought would be that triggering event, it felt anti-climactic to begin with. However, by the end of the book it became clear that it was a deliberate subversion of the reader's expectations. I thought I had the plot sussed out in advance and that I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. As it built towards the two places I'd identified as being the 'key' event, I suddenly found myself blind-sided by the plot going in a completely different direction. By not taking the route I'd expected, my interest was captured further and it was a brilliant editorial choice. Don't get me wrong - this isn't a trauma free book by any means, it's simply that the emotional upset comes from somewhere entirely unexpected.
At its heart, this is a book about friendship. But it goes far beyond friendship and examines the love that underpins the truest of all friendships. Zahra and Maryam's relationship is something rare and precious and yet at its heart, in spite of all their promises of truth-telling, it proves that no one can ever fully know or understand another human being. However, it also shows that ultimately, if you truly love someone, no matter what the obstacles put in your way (by them or by life itself) you are always drawn back to them because they are such an integral part of your life that you cannot imagine how life can continue without them in it.
In the friends' relationship, Shamsie shows the depth of understanding she has about all the frailties of human relationships and particularly of those forged in childhood. The unswerving loyalty and the many unspoken conversations which take place between them all point to something which goes beyond friendship and becomes more like family. And as everyone knows, family are the people who can hurt you the most.
Whilst it's not always a comfortable read and certainly proves eye-opening to anyone who is not familiar with the indignities of the immigration service (certain characters put a human face on the nameless numbers affected in similar ways) and the back-scratching that goes on between politics and business, Best Of Friends is a fabulous book. The cover design is so simple, but utterly inspired and I loved every word behind it.