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The Friend

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WINNER OF THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018 A moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog. When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatised by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building. While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog's care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unravelling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them. Elegiac and searching, THE FRIEND is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion. A beautiful book . . . a world of insight into death, grief, art, and love. -Wall Street Journal A penetrating, moving meditation on loss, comfort, memory. . . Nunez has a wry, withering wit. -NPR Dry, allusive and charming. . . the comedy here writes itself. The New York TimesAuthor BiographySigrid Nunez has published seven novels, including A Feather on the Breath of God, The Last of Her Kind, Salvation City, and, most recently, The Friend, which won the National Book Award. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Among the journals to which she has contributed are The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, Harper's, McSweeney's, Tin House, The Believer and newyorker. com. Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, including four Pushcart Prize volumes and four anthologies of Asian-American literature. Sigrid's honors and awards

224 pages, Paperback

First published February 6, 2018

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About the author

Sigrid Nunez

31 books962 followers
Sigrid Nunez has published seven novels, including A Feather on the Breath of God, The Last of Her Kind, Salvation City, and, most recently, The Friend. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Among the journals to which she has contributed are The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and The Believer. Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, including four Pushcart Prize volumes and four anthologies of Asian American literature.

Sigrid’s honors and awards include a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters: the Rosenthal Foundation Award and the Rome Prize in Literature. She has taught at Columbia, Princeton, Boston University, and the New School, and has been a visiting writer or writer in residence at Amherst, Smith, Baruch, Vassar, and the University of California, Irvine, among others. In spring, 2019, she will be visiting writer at Syracuse University. Sigrid has also been on the faculty of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and of several other writers’ conferences across the country. She lives in New York City.

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5 stars
9,864 (27%)
4 stars
13,358 (36%)
3 stars
9,244 (25%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,332 reviews
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,586 followers
January 2, 2019
Update: Friends, as I had hoped, this novel did win the National Book Award for 2018. (See comments below where Wyndy first brought it to my attention that it was nominated.) This is such a well-deserved honour for this author and this novel - I hope the Award inspires all those who may have hesitated to read this.

Of the last four books I have read, three have been about loss and grief. It is another of those serendipities that I value as a reader and by itself gives cause for reflection.

This book does the same. Many times I paused to ponder the words, phrases, and sentences I was reading.

There are no names in this story save for one. Apollo is a harlequin Great Dane dog who comes to the woman when her friend and mentor of many years dies, and Wife Three cannot cope with the deep mourning of this left-behind pet.

This novel presented a puzzle to me as well as a beautiful, well-told story. Is she writing a letter to her friend and mentor who died? Is she writing a book? A biography of her friend, the writer, perhaps? Are these thoughts and ideas ones that come to her and she records them in her journal? It could be any one of those – or all of them. I never found out for certain, and ultimately, it does not matter.

The woman is mourning. That is for certain. The dog is in mourning – that is certain, too. Between the two of them, with the threat of eviction hanging over their heads (the woman’s apartment does not allow dogs), they immerse themselves in each other’s grief and seek healing. First for themselves, and then for each other. Or, maybe for each other with the by-product a healing for themselves.

The passages on writing are extraordinary, contradictory at times, and remind us exactly how subjective certain aspects of life and death are. I personally do not know of a family that has not been touched by suicide at one time or another. Through this woman’s literary quotes and musings of her own, I came to understand suicide at levels I had not even thought of before.

There are passages on the relationship between Apollo and the woman, and their many ups and downs in the process of building a relationship that would serve them both. The woman is reminded many times during this novel of small stories about people she knew, not just her friend and mentor, but others who sparked more recollections that connected with her present moments.

There are also many passages on writers and writing; on readers and reading. Here is one small piece that had an impact on me (as did so much of the writing). I hope that even removed from context, its meaning comes through. The woman, as is the case in most of this story, is addressing her friend:

But the truth was, you had become so dismayed by the ubiquity of careless reading that something had happened that you had thought never could happen: you had started not to care whether people read you or not. And though you knew your publisher would spit in your eye for saying so, you were inclined to agree with whoever it was who said that no truly good book would find more than three thousand readers.

I am not sure how so much managed to be housed in the pages of this book of less than 200 pages. It is almost like opening a box that has many smaller boxes inside it. The box isn’t big, but it can hold many, many more containers within. I highly recommend finding a copy of this as soon as you can, and I hope that your explorations reveal as many gold nuggets and gemstones as it did for me.

Edited to add: This novel is on the list (voting is tomorrow, I believe) for the National Book Award for fiction! Thank you so much to our friend Wyndy who posted this link: https://lithub.com/meet-national-book...
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
651 reviews825 followers
December 12, 2018
Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend sometimes reads like a memoir, sometimes like a letter to a friend and sometimes, in an attempt to make sense of both her friend’s death and the dog who has come to stand in for him, a philosophical inquiry. I loved it! Nunez is smart, funny and thought-provoking as she explores life, death, writing and relationships. I know this book is not for everyone. The fact that writing (and the writing life) is such a strong focus will appeal to some and turn others off. Perhaps as a consequence, it doesn’t really have a strong plot (unless you count whether the unnamed narrator will find a way to keep her friend’s dog), but, in my opinion, that’s not really the point. Nunez does so much in these pages that keeps me wanting to keep reading. This was my first time reading Sigrid Nunez, but it won’t be the last time. I will look for another of Nunez’s


Since Sigrid Nunez's visit to Wyoming, her latest novel, The Friend, won the National Book of the Year Award! Congratulations, Sigrid!!
Profile Image for karen.
3,968 reviews170k followers
May 1, 2019
despite my joy over twinkle lights and tiny notebooks &etc, i was apprehensive when i got this book in my quarterly literary fiction box from pagehabit. let’s just say this isn’t a good time of year for me to be reading books about suicide OR books where beloved animals might die. but this isn’t a tearjerker by any means - for a book about grief, it’s almost entirely cerebral, and most of the emotional responses to death are centered in the behavior of the dog whose master has just died.

it’s somewhere in-between a letter and a novel, without being shaped like either - a series of loosely connected, stream-of-consciousness musings written in second-person, where the “you” is not the reader, but the narrator’s recently deceased longtime friend and mentor, whose unexpected suicide left behind a widow, two ex-wives, a career’s worth of students and readers, the narrator herself, and a 180-pound great dane named apollo. apollo is more or less foisted upon the narrator by wife three, despite her enviably rent-stabilized manhattan apartment’s “no dogs” policy, and they build a companionship upon their shared loss.

the narrator is also a writing teacher, and this book feels like a writing assignment: write a book about the grieving process without being emotionally manipulative, without any named (human) characters, without a traditional plot or narrative structure. also, name-drop, quote, and reference at least fifty writers. per chapter. the result is unusual; grief manifesting in a clinical, detached way, frequently as physical symptoms of emotional distress. but ironically, it’s this self-consciously strict refusal to commit to or indulge any emotional response on paper that makes the pain stand out that much more; the control and the effort that control must require.

a lot of the novel is about writing in general and about writing as therapy - it’s a recurring theme in a book in which recurrence itself is a theme. there’s always more than one thing going on in any given passage, something harkening back to, or presaging, another passage - it’s all very intricate while giving the illusion it’s unconcerned with structure.

a sample page:

A friend of mine who is working on a memoir says, I hate the idea of writing as some kind of catharsis, because it seems like that can’t possibly produce a good book.

You cannot hope to console yourself for your grief by writing, warns Natalia Ginzburg.

Turn then to Isak Denisen, who believed that you could make any sorrow bearable by putting it into a story or telling a story about it.

I suppose that I did for myself what psychoanalysts do for their patients. I expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotion. And in expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest. Woolf is talking about writing about her mother, thoughts of whom had obsessed her between the ages of thirteen (her age when her mother died) and forty-four, when, in a great, apparently involuntary rush, she wrote To the Lighthouse. After which the obsession ceased: I no longer hear her voice; I do not see her.

Q. Does the effectiveness of catharsis depend on the quality of the writing? And if a person finds catharsis by writing a book, does it matter whether or not the book is any good?

My friend is also writing about her mother.

Writers love quoting Milosz: When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.

After I put my mother in a novel she never forgave me.

Rather than, say, Toni Morrison, who called basing a character on a real person an infringement of copyright. A person owns his life, she says. It’s not for another to use it for fiction.

there are some absolutely gorgeous moments in this book - some excellent lines and inspired observations and unexpected connections, but that’s what it left me with - i felt like i had experienced several small lovely moments without having read something… complete? i’m not able to articulate it with any precision right now, but it’s something like this book pleased me on an analytic level without allowing me any more immersive pleasure but that it also it kind of felt like when i used to have seizures - there’d be a sensation of time passing punctuated by flashes of clarity but no sense or understanding of the event as a whole.

TLDR - i liked it, but i didn’t love it.

although - look how cute it is under the hood:



my new quarterly literary fiction box from pagehabit has arrived!!

oh, man - i have a LOT of catching up to do!! but what fun it will be to do so!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Nicole.
371 reviews12.6k followers
January 26, 2023
Cieszę się, bo poprzednia książka autorki mnie bardzo rozczarowała, a tutaj dostałam historię, którą uważam za bardzo dobrą.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,849 reviews34.9k followers
September 15, 2018
Update... This made the 2018 National Book Awards Longlist for Fiction. ( good choice)

This was an awesome doggie good Audiobook!!!

Read by...Hillary Huber

It’s dry... it’s sly..., it’s never dull!!!!
It’s also quite beautiful and touching.
It’s about a friend, a man, a suicide, a dog, - *Apollo*- and 3 wives....
It takes place in New York... with writers and writing seminars.

There’s no escaping sadness - loss - grief and death ..., but if you love dogs and literature with great dialogue.....
....recognize a fabulous voice narrator when you hear one - this is a wonderful choice.

Slip this book in between a tragic WWII book or a Political American non fiction frightening book.

Love the uniqueness this book is!
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews109k followers
February 10, 2019
Update: Bumping my rating down to 2 stars. The more I think about it the more I don't think the author's intentions were executed well.


This book was a miss for me, but I’ve decided not to rate this 2 stars since I think that’s just a matter of my personal preference rather than the objective quality of the book. It’s less of a story and more a string of musings about literature, life, and death, and how interconnected they can be. The book aims to be thought-provoking but I did not feel moved or attached to the writing, despite my adoration for dogs and penchant for overthinking. I think the book has a very niche audience that just isn’t for me.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,686 reviews2,241 followers
November 17, 2018
4.5 Stars

”The dead dwell in the conditional, tense of the unreal. But there is also the extraordinary sense that you have become omniscient, that nothing we do or think or feel can be kept from you. The extraordinary sense that you are reading these words, that you know what they’ll say even before I write them.”

Loss, loneliness, the writing life, friendship, grieving, memories, love in all its various forms, between people, and with our pets - in this story, with a dog. But not just any dog, a larger than life sized dog, a harlequin Great Dane named Apollo, who is mourning the loss of his human, a man, a writer, who has taken his own life. These are some of the themes examined in this thought-provoking novel.

”If reading really does increase empathy, as we are constantly being told that it does, it appears that writing takes some away.”

Apollo comes to live with our narrator, a friend of the deceased at the request of his widow, his third wife. He’s much too much for her to handle in her spacious place, and she’s not interested in trying to make it work. Apollo was his dog, and she has no interest in keeping him. It’s clear from the start that Apollo is mourning the loss of the man, but quietly accepts the transfer to this strange new woman, despite her building having a no dogs allowed policy.

This is not a plot-driven book, it weaves through thoughts, the past, her frustration with her students’ grasp of the English language and simple sentence construction, her growing fondness for this new being sharing her life, and missing the easy friendship with her former friend, Apollo’s former master. The writing is lovely in its sparseness, adding a graceful simplicity to this story that reads more like a memoir that wanders hither and yon, always returning to the tie that binds her to Apollo. In the beginning of their days together, she keeps Apollo more out of a sense of obligation to her friend, something to bond them now that he’s gone. As time passes, her focus changes, and she becomes almost single-mindedly devoted to Apollo, who has now become her dog in every sense, they have bonded. The grief is still there, it is one of the things they share, but in sharing that grief a bond has nevertheless been formed.

”They don’t commit suicide. They don’t weep. But they can and do fall to pieces. They can and do have their hearts broken. They can and do lose their minds.”

Clever and darkly amusing, this flits from topic to topic, never staying with one too long. A tribute to life and all that includes, all of the ugly, dark and painful sides of life, balanced by the loveliness of life, and the love we share through our words, spoken or written.

Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for JanB .
1,113 reviews2,155 followers
April 21, 2019
Worst blurb ever:

”...a moving story about love, friendship, grief, healing and the magical bond between a woman and her dog.”

I’m not sure the person who wrote the blurb actually read the book.

The book was much more about writing and the writerly life than it was a book about grief and the magical bond between a woman and her dog. I found certain passages beautifully written, but I didn't enjoy the book as a whole. There were some brilliant passages about the dog every once in a while, which demonstrated that the author knows dogs well. She also has a wry wit that I enjoyed and I highlighted more than a few sentences/passages.

However, I grew very weary of all the musings about writing and found myself skimming large sections. There was a lot of complaining about how hard the writing life is, and she insulted authors who aren’t “literary” enough, those who self-publish and/or write romance novels, and readers who don’t “get it”.
Which felt extremely pretentious and mean-spirited.

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,686 reviews14k followers
February 14, 2018
3.5 Loss and loneliness are the main themes explored in this novel about friendship and the life of writing. When a woman loses her best friend and mentor to suicide she tries to understand his actions, deal with the loss of this person, and takes on the responsibility of caring for his aged, Great Dane, named Apollo. Apollo is grieving the loss of his former friend and master, and so together they travel a new road.

The writing is elegant, spare, recalling literary entities who were also focused on their pets, finding in them many times more humanity in them than in their regular relationships. The writing is non linear, free flowing thoughts, wandering from their past relationship, to the literary endeavors undertaken by them both, and on to other subjects. Intropsective and melancholy, thoughts turn and twist, the way memories do, and always in the background the ties people have found and loved in their animals. Trivia and insights into animals, their empathy, their understanding, keen sense of smell, the bond forged between them and their human counterparts.

A shorter novel, but I found it fascinating, the way it is pulled together worked for this exceptionally well. We could travel with this young woman as she attempts to come to terms with something unexpected and devastating in her own life. The words, sentences, nothing wasted, we are n her mind, her free flowing thoughts. Her own relationship with the Great Dane and what it comes to mean. This will probably be a book that won't appeal to all, but it did appeal to me. I sometimes sink into these unconventional types of fiction,just float along with the words, and ponder what I'm reading.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews968 followers
April 20, 2020
A meditation on writing, grief, and friendship, The Friend follows an unnamed woman as she comes to terms with an old friend's suicide and struggles to take care of the dog he has left behind. The novel is narrated from the woman's perspective, and each of its twelve chapters consists of a series of fragments addressing a wide array of subjects. The flimsy plot in fact feels merely like a jumping-off point for philosophical contemplation; the narrator discusses at length the ethics of animal ownership, sexual harassment, friendships between men and women, divorce, literary composition, pedagogy, and suicide. A pair of twists in the final two chapters adds a dash of drama to the story, but the appeal of the novel lies elsewhere. Nunez's prose is terse and fast moving, and her frequent references to the work of other writers makes her book read as a collage of perspectives. While I value the author's project and admire her style, I often felt The Friend to be old fashioned in thought and disjointed in form.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
978 reviews123 followers
March 9, 2018
I almost bailed on this a couple of times, but it is short and has gotten such critical acclaim that I decided to power through. There is a thin story about a woman grief-stricken over the death of a friend and how she cares for his dog. But a lot of the book is just ramblings about various topics. There is also a lot of whining about how tough it is to be a writer and the state of literature today and how everybody thinks they can write, etc. 🙄
Profile Image for Michael Ferro.
Author 2 books210 followers
September 10, 2018
THE FRIEND by Sigrid Nunez is quite simply one of the best personal narrative novels I've come across concerning dogs and writing. In the same vein as MY DOG TULIP, Nunez alternates philosophizing between her literary musings and the unexpected care she must bestow upon a massive great dane. As a dog lover, I am a sucker for any good dog book, but Nunez's focus not only on the physical complications of a huge dog in tiny spaces, but also upon the heavy philosophical questions that arise for many writers and their pooches is second-to-none. At different times, the subjects of love and loss take the forefront, bouncing back and forth between the death of a close friend and the dog the protagonist takes in after the tragedy.

Both hilarious and heartwarming, while also deeply contemplative and empathic, THE FRIEND is an uncanny exploration of grief and loss while never losing its focus on the power dogs have for humans. Writers often have some type of non-human companion that helps not only with their craft, but their mental state, and this novel perfectly captures that balance; these animals can be an incredible burden at times, but a life without them just seems impossible. The level of empathy a dog bestows upon its owner is paramount, and Nunez showcases the psychological gauntlet these animals put us through and how the rewards always outweigh all other considerations.

A brisk read, filled with heart, humor, and darkness, THE FRIEND was one of the most delightful reading experiences I've had in some time. So much so, in fact, that I look forward to being able to read the book a second time in no time at all.
Profile Image for Polly.
109 reviews2 followers
February 12, 2018

Normally I would never review a book I didn't finish. Actually, I normally would never not finish a book. However, I hated this book so much that I had no choice. If you want to read about a main character who is mourning a sad older white man who takes advantage of his students and then justifies it because it's the women's fault because they have all the power, or read about how much harder it is to be a writer than a sex traffic victim, then this is for you. Also, the main character reads a book about a man who was in love with his dog (a book recommended by the dead creep she's mourning) and then she shows signs of being disappointed that there was no bestiality in the book. This book is a piece of trash and I cannot believe anyone would finish it, let alone give it a good rating. I'm a librarian and believe in the sanctity of books but if I hadn't borrowed this piece of crap from my local library, I would have thrown it in the trash to save someone else from the horror of reading this book. I ask again, where the hell did editors go??
Profile Image for William2.
729 reviews2,824 followers
July 17, 2020
A gem. A woman writer’s distinguished writer friend, a great philanderer, discovers that young women are no longer physically attracted to him and kills himself. The woman is then saddled with her late friend’s dog, a Great Dane called Apollo. The novel in its early stages reads in part like a response to The Dying Animal by Philip Roth, but richer, each sentence stabbing yet buoyant. The prose is achingly beautiful. Set in a peculiarly literary present day New York with fascinating allusions to writing and writers of all kinds. The story is in part a letter to the deceased, in part about how metoo has perverted our culture. The narrator also teaches a writing course to sex workers, and has to manage this enormous animal who’s mourning for his lost master. I’d like to say more about the novel’s impressive structure but that will require another reading. So, gloriously discursive. Fresh and new.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,379 reviews518 followers
March 10, 2019
Wow. Finally. This novel (that doesn’t feel like a novel) strikes three major chords. It made me laugh, ignited my mind and touched my heart.

Quote: Your whole house smells of dog, says someone who comes to visit. I say I'll take care of it. Which I do by never inviting that person to visit again.
Profile Image for Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun).
314 reviews1,955 followers
November 25, 2018
This is a very me book. I'm sure plenty of people will read it and think "eh, that was fine but nothing special." But for me, Nunez gets closer to capturing the essence of grief and friendship than any author I can remember in a long time.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews846 followers
February 4, 2019
Even after its National Book Award win I was hesitant to pick up The Friend, which I feared would be saccharine and emotionally manipulative, the two reasons I tend to avoid books about animals. Mercifully it was nothing of the sort, and it was in fact nothing at all like I was expecting, but I was utterly enchanted by it.

The Friend follows an unnamed narrator whose best friend has just committed suicide, and in the midst of processing her own grief she's entreated to look after her friend's dog, a massive Great Dane. Animals aren't allowed in her rent controlled Manhattan apartment, but she feels a certain loyalty to this dog which won't allow her to give him up. But the plot itself is never really the focus; this is instead a philosophical book that mainly uses its premise as backdrop for its thematic conceits, and admittedly I understand why that doesn't work for a lot of readers, and why The Friend has been a divisive read, but my god did I love it.

This book is filled with beautifully crafted sentences (more understated than lyrical) that meditate on certain questions about grief and loss and friendship and writing that plague the narrator. Unable to make sense of her friend's sudden death, she's encouraged by her therapist to write about it (does writing actually help us process grief - another question interrogated by the narrator throughout the novel), and the result is the book that the reader is holding. At times I had to keep reminding myself this wasn't a memoir; the verisimilitude of the narrative voice was eerie, she'd mention a certain article she once wrote and I'd think 'that sounds interesting, I'll have to look that up' before remembering this was all fictional. The integration of literary allusions, another element that I think may vex certain readers with its frequency, I thought was done in a wonderfully authentic way, and the various writers mentioned gave me a good sense of how this character interacted with the world.

I just thoroughly loved this, and though it brought me to tears at one point, it certainly isn't a 'weepy dog book,' so if that's what's been keeping you away from this one I'd highly encourage you to give it a try - provided that you don't mind your novels heavier on philosophy than plot. There's also an ingeniously executed twist(?) in the penultimate chapter that allows you to read the entire book in one of two ways, and ambiguous endings (when done well) are always my favorites. This book is smart and emotionally honest all at once, my favorite combination.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,210 reviews453 followers
November 20, 2018
Let me say right up front that if you need a plot, find another book to read. The bare bones of this novel consists of an unnamed older woman, whose unnamed male friend commits suicide, and she adopts his Great Dane, named Apollo, to keep him from being destroyed. The only suspense being whether she will be evicted from her rent-controlled apartment because they don't allow dogs.

Having said that, my next comment is that I loved this book! Musings and ramblings on so many different subjects: dogs, teaching, writing, authors, love and friendship and grief, philosophy, all interspersed with literary quotes and allusions. Every sentence was something to be laughed at and/or thought about. For me, it was delightful to be inside the narrator's mind as a trusted confidant, even though she was directing her comments to her dead friend.

What an amazing novel. This just won the National Book Award and I fully understand why. If you are a fan of dogs, literature, and interior dialogue from a sometimes unreliable narrator, try this one on for size. Just don't expect a plot or a conventional storyline.
Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
584 reviews18.4k followers
July 7, 2019
This was an excellent book about grief, dogs, New York, and writers. Lots of writers!

I absolutely loved it and read it in two sittings, it's short and there's never a dull moment. It's all about the characters, specially the narrator, her thoughts on many subjects, from writing workshops to technology in novels, all types of ruminations, this is what made the book exceptional.

Definitely one the the best books I've read this year, it was different, fresh, wonderful, even with its somber tone. Highly recommend it!

NOTE: this book won the 2018 National Book Award (well deserved!), here's the author's acceptance speech
Profile Image for Lee.
335 reviews8 followers
November 29, 2018
Possibly the most 3.5 book I have ever read. This might not make much sense but: I loved the sentences in The Friend but I didn't love The Friend. I thought it was beautifully crafted and fairly unique (reminded me a bit of Rachel Cusk at times) but just didn't land as it has elsewhere. I felt it tried to do something interesting and succeeded but I'm still not sure just what that something was.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,024 followers
November 7, 2018
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez is a finalist for the National Book Award. I first heard about it from Nadine, a guest on Episode 129 of the Reading Envy Podcast. I enjoyed the themes of the novel - grief, friendship, dogs, writing - but more than that I appreciated the style, which felt like fiction as essay or autobiographical fiction, more musings than plot. My kind of read.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,715 reviews1,147 followers
August 12, 2021
True story: once many years back, and together with my brother Paul, I had breakfast in a hotel on the table next to Bjarne Riis (1996 Tour de France winner turned cycle team owner).

So this book felt very meaningful to me as I know all about sharing mourning rituals with Great Dane.

However it is one I was always put off reading by a misconception that the book was solely about animals and grief, and (based on what I know now to be a classic in incorrect book review headlines) a review in the Irish Times - “The Friend” by Sigrid Nunez https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo... which says the book is narrated by a dog – something which could not be further from the truth as the narrator at one stage decries attempts to write in the voice of animals.

I only finally read it due to its shortlisting for the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award.

This partly autofictional novel/literary meditation/memoir is indeed an examination of grief, of the dog/human relationship and of suicide but despite its short length (I read it cover to cover in 2-3 hours) it is so much more and in particular is both an examination of writing, of literature and the teaching of writing (the narrator, the suicide she is mourning and whose dog she know owns and the author are all teachers of creative writing courses); and further it consistently uses literature to examine its themes.

Within these pages we find authors

Great: Kundera (a novel is featured but one is reminded of his writing on writing), Woolf, George RR Martin (the cause no offence school of college writing courses captured by a student who submits and discusses a completely non-sexist and on-sexual fantasy-war novel but who is for his actual novel adding back everything he excises for the class; later the narrator binge watches "Game of Thrones")
Unknown (at least to me) ) JR Ackerley and his bizarre “My Dog Tulip”,
Terrible: James Patterson (and his “become a bestselling writer” adverts) and JM Coetzee who’s execrable “Disgrace” is featured heavily both for the protagonist’s self-destructive behaviour (something of a template for the narrator’s friend) and the treatment of dogs.

These references are all deliberate, but any lover of literature will find some more accidental resonances I think. For me the narrator’s ex-mentor’s musings on the author as flaneur and his practicing of the same (alongside provocative views on current literature) cannot help read like Will Self’s rambling (in both senses of the word) New Statesman columns.

The passages on Rilke and his illness fitting with Ali Smith’s “Spring”; and the passages on the suicide of Heinrich von Kleist so reminiscent of Hari Kunzru’s “Red Pill” published the same month I was reading this.

The narrator shares the author’s views (and her actual practice) that Edna O’Brien best captured what it should mean to be a writer - as a lifelong vocation akin to being a nun or priest.

She therefore decries the “everyone must write”, “I have a right to be heard” modern school of writing as therapy – although is also self aware enough to find a quote expressing a similar view from some time in the first half of the 19th Century!

There is much in the book about the emnities between authors and in the creative writing industry.

There is plenty about reading also, a lot of it fairly harsh on readers.

I enjoyed a huge amount the line “There’s a certain kind of person without having read this far is anxiously worrying - does something bad happen to the dog” and the repetition on several other occasions of the last clause (as so many of my Goodreads friends are that “certain kind of person”) although this also later leads to a considered discussion of whether it is right to object more to violence on animals than humans.

I perhaps laughed a little more nervously on how the internet has meant that writers can now see the views of their readers and how it can be almost as bad as a reader who completely hates your novel, to have a reader who praises you in detail for themes and ideas that were not actually your intention at all.

Overall an excellent book.
Profile Image for JimZ.
972 reviews425 followers
January 23, 2021
Overall I enjoyed this short novel (~200 pages). While I was reading it, I turned to the first pages before the actual novel where the information about the book is (what edition it is, who publishes it, etc.) to determine if this was a memoir or a work of fiction. It sure read like a memoir, but it was labeled as fiction. I wonder if it was semi-memoirish. I don’t think it’s auto-fiction? Maybe there is not a name for it. Maybe it is pseudo-memoir. Maybe I should just move on to the review! 🙃

The protagonist, a writer, talks quite a bit about writing and being an author and teaching writing classes, and what her students are like. Most of her students don’t seem happy with their classes, and they don’t want to read other works…they just want to write. But in order to write well, I would think you need to read and appreciate good writing (and to recognize what constitutes bad writing)?

The plot of this novel is that a writer friend commits suicide and she unwillingly takes on his Great Dane…otherwise the dog will probably be put to sleep. Over time, she grows to love the dog, and the dog grows to love her. And the dog who was already old when the writer adopts him is getting even older and the time is approaching when it might be more humane to relieve the dog’s pain and suffering by putting it to sleep.

I would say about 25% of the book is about the dog and her relationship with it, and the other 75% is about all sorts of stuff…. a good deal of it thought-provoking and interesting. While some parts made me uncomfortable—a workshop of women who had been victims of sex-trafficking (and telling us about their lives and what they went through)—even those parts got me to thinking.
3.5 stars. Thanks to the GR friend who wrote a compelling review that motivated me to put it on my TBR list.

Nunez includes in her novel some people and some books I recognized including the novel Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee, the author Heinrich von Kleist who was involved in a double suicide (I read his short story, Earthquake in Chile, and liked it), and Georges Simenon (a la psychology [roman durs] novels and Inspector Maigret novels and probably had sex with 1000 different women I kid you not

The protagonist talks about a friend of hers who has stopped writing and what led up to that….and among some of the factors that led up to it, she writes the following and every once in a while, this is the way I feel, but I hope it will always be a temporary, not permanent, feeling for me:
• “I used to be the passionate bookworm, but over the years I’ve become less and less interested, especially fiction. Maybe it has to do with the realities I see every day, but I started to feel bored with stories about made-up people living made-up lives full of made-up problems.”
This was funny (to me):
• “When I hear someone describe a wine as having a black-pepper aroma followed by hints of raspberry and blackberry, I know they’re full of shit.”

I did not know this while reading this…it won the National Book Award in 2018 for Fiction!

• Helluva good review: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/bo...
https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo... reviewer is Eilis Ni Dhuibhne…I still have several of her books…I need to re-read her in 2021, I really liked The Inland Ice and Other Stories

For those who are Sigrid Nunez fans I would like to know what novel of hers I should read next, since I would like to dip into more of her reading. Thanks.
Profile Image for Laysee.
486 reviews214 followers
October 19, 2019
The Friend is aptly titled. On a limited level, it is about the friendship between a nameless female narrator and her former writing professor with whom she had a romantic attachment that morphed into a companionable lifetime friendship. On a more significant level, it is about her relationship with a harlequin Great Dane, Apollo, who became her dog when her friend died suddenly. Wife number 3 of the deceased pretty much thrust the care of this 180-pound greatness upon her, and it is amazing to read how the narrator’s hesitation and reluctance developed into a closeness that stole her heart and mine.

The narrator herself is a writer and writing teacher who lives in a small Manhattan apartment in which no pets are allowed and therefore, risks eviction. Nunez writes humanely about grief – both human and dog. It is heartbreaking to read about Apollo howling and missing his master. Slowly, he warms to his new caregiver and colonizes her bed. She starts reading out loud to Apollo Rilke’s letters to a young poet and sees for the first time a half smile. This melts my heart. Unbeknownst to herself, this is her own grief therapy. If I ever own a dog, I would want to read to him, maybe about cats like Six-Dinner Sid and see how he will react. She and Apollo become friends, a term Rilke defined as ‘two solitudes that protect and border and greet each other.’

The Friend is also a book about writers and writing, especially their struggles in a world increasingly marked by the ‘ubiquity of careless reading.’ Quotes from renowned writers (e.g., Joan Didion, John Updike, Isak Dinesen, Virginia Woolfe, etc.) who have made it in the literary world reveal much about the frustration, pain, poverty, and perceived futility in the creative venture. My writer friends should read it and tell me if what was described were true. Does writing provide catharsis for the writer? According to Natalia Ginsburg, writers cannot hope to console themselves for their grief by writing. On the other hand, Isak Dinesen felt one could make any sorrow bearable by putting it into a story or telling a story about it. Similarly, Woolf admitted, “I suppose that I did for myself what psychoanalysts do for their patients. I expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotion. And in expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest.” The writing life of authors fascinates me.

With two tracks in this book, I thought it pleasing when it becomes clear that this book is metafiction. Structurally, it captures both the product (this book) and the process of its composition. How clever! Nunez writes with a straightforward and clean prose that is immediate and poignant.

How does one say goodbye to a beloved pet? Pet owners must have walked this journey many times and this story will strike a familiar chord. Even for non-pet owners, a story like this is bound to reach miles deep and move us inwardly. Fear of loved ones dying. Hope for one more summer.

The Friend is the winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction for good reasons. Read it!
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,651 reviews1,485 followers
February 26, 2018
I had too many problems with this book to give it more than three stars, but there is a twist at the end that I liked a lot. This turned the book around for me. In the story, a woman tells of a man who commits suicide. It is interesting to toy with the idea of who exactly is the friend in the title. I am not going to spoil the book by giving more away.

I do not think the GR book description accurately describes the book; it leads you in the wrong direction. The central focus is about the art of writing. Many references are made to authors, contemporary authors such as Svetlana Alexievich and Karl Ove Knausgårdand J.M. Coetzee to name but three, and many novelists, poets and playwrights of the past. Often this was simply name-dropping, but on other occasions that said was interesting. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet written by Rilke when only twenty-seven. We are given a smattering of many different authors’ tips for good writing.

In the telling of the story we are in the head of the central protagonist. Thoughts are free-flowing, and this is at times confusing. Who is the “she” and the “he” and the “you” referred to? Names are not used—neither for the man who commits suicide nor his first, second or third wife. Given the style of writing and the absence of names, one does not come close to the characters.

There is a dog. Here we have a name; he is called Apollo. The writing about Apollo is perceptive and shows the author knows dogs well--how they move, how they nudge you with their nose, how they stare in your eyes, dance on their paws to draw your attention and speak to you. Yet very little in this book is actually about dogs! There are some statements about authors and their dogs.

The book has humor. One example is when Apollo is taken where dogs are not allowed. Questioned, the reply was that he was a service dog…….even if no badge declared him as such! How dare this even be questioned! “This dog is my emotional support companion.” I have told myself to remember that line.

The audiobook is very well narrated by Hillary Huber, but with some sections better than others. I particularly liked when the central protagonist is at her therapist. The final sections are better than in the beginning, maybe because as the book gathers strength and focus the reading does too.
Profile Image for Sharon.
947 reviews182 followers
June 4, 2019
This book is unlike any I’ve read before and I must admit it didn’t keep my interest like I thought it would. Yes, it was a well written book there is no doubting that, but I just couldn’t get into it and that was probably more to do with me than the book.

Apollo the Great Dane who is pictured on the front cover of course was my favorite character. A story about friendship, heartache and loneliness. I’m not going to say a lot more about this book only to say give it a go as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it like many others have. I did enjoy this book, but I didn’t love it and let’s face it, we can’t love every book we read can we. Recommended.
Profile Image for Emily B.
419 reviews414 followers
July 27, 2022
3.5 rounded down

This book is definitely about writing, friendship and a dog, however I’m not sure how well they all fit together within the novel. This may have been because I listened to the audiobook and the narrators voice sounded a little robotic and because there were over 10 parts to the book.

It was also little repetitive at times. Specially when quoting and re quoting famous authors or facts. However it was short and easy to follow and mainly entertaining.
Profile Image for j e w e l s.
306 reviews2,324 followers
January 30, 2019

For all you literary types out there, THE FRIEND is a philosophical and critical look at readers and writers. Also, there is a dog story woven throughout this tale of friendship and grief. However, this is not really a dog story. So, don't pick it up thinking this is a Marley and Me tale--it sure as hell is not.

It is more like a series of essays, meditations, ponderings on the mind of a writer--their struggles and triumphs---a topic that endlessly fascinates me. It's not a book for everyone, but if you enjoy the writings of Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag, or Joan Didion, this is the one for you.

Despite my love for the latest psych suspense thriller, I have a little pride about wanting to stay scholastic and literary! I have been working my way through the 2018 books that seemed to capture the awards and critic's praises. This is one of the top winners last year.

Thanks to my library for the audio version, it was perfection!
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 35 books11.1k followers
January 6, 2019
"The Friend" is a rarity, a novel that is wistful and elegiac, but also rich with gentle humor. It's the story of a woman, her literary mentor who kills himself, a tiny apartment...and an aging Great Dane. I loved that dog. I think any dog (or cat) lover will. And I loved Sigrid Nunez's novel, with its explorations of the bonds between humans and our closest animal companions, and its digressions into books and movies we know.
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