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The Friendly Young Ladies

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  304 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
Set in 1937, The Friendly Young Ladies is a romantic comedy of off-Bloomsbury bohemia. Sheltered, naïve, and just eighteen, Elsie leaves the stifling environment of her parents’ home in Cornwall to seek out her sister, Leo, who had run away nine years earlier. She finds Leo sharing a houseboat, and a bed, with the beautiful, fair-haired Helen. While Elsie’s arrival seems i ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 13th 2003 by Vintage (first published 1943)
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Apr 26, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Where do I even begin? Why did I even read this? I didn't care for Praise Singer at all, but I thought well, maybe where the homosexuality didn't entice, lesbianism might. But this...I hated this with passion, made all the more frustrating by the fact that it had so much potential. Specifically it had a deathly soporific beginning, decent first part of the middle and then abysmal last part of the middle and the end. Much like her other book, this one was terribly overwritten and in all the wrong ...more
Sep 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I think this is Renault's only contemporary novel (it's set in 1937; she wrote it during WWII) and (maybe?) her only one with a lesbian couple.

The Vintage edition includes an afterword Renault wrote in 1983, which is interesting but rather annoying because she mostly uses it as a soapbox to tell the younger LGB to stop marching around demanding that everyone respect their differences. She frames this as an explanation of why she wrote The Friendly Young Ladies -- she wanted to show that people i
Sharon Terry
Sep 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
I was severely disappointed in this novel, by an author whose classically-themed books I enjoyed. I actually read the Virago 2005 reprint, which contains the Afterword by the author herself, but no other commentary.

The story concerns the timid, repressed Elsie Lane's great adventure in running away from her stifling, conflict-ridden, suburban life in Cornwall, to go in search of her older sister Leonora, who also ran away, ostensibly with a man (actually, a good mate). Leo, as she's known, has a
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
A cleverly wrought, beautifully written, and often very funny picture of a handful of Bohemian entanglements, which packs a surprising emotional punch as its most ambiguous thread snaps in the climax. The titular young ladies are Leo, a trousers-wearing, swaggering author of Western novels under the nom de plume Tex O'Hara, and her lover Helen, a kind-hearted gentle woman with a delicious acerbic streak. But the story is almost entirely Leo's, and as she comes more and more into focus - and fina ...more
Tara Calaby
Sep 19, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was readable enough, I guess, although everything is implied rather than stated, meaning that I have come out of it still not knowing exactly what the relationships between people were and even what happened in the end. It's not one I'd raise up as an important queer work, because really it's mostly about women sleeping with men, even if those women happen to have a possible relationship with each other as well. It gives the impression that women will never be fulfilled in relationships wit ...more
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: funny, lgbtq
Groundbreaking, profound, intellectual, complicated, funny, thoughtful, and frustrating, but very worth reading! I bookmarked about a dozen pages of this book because the writing rang so true! I was surprised how accessible the language was in spite of being British.
Quote from the back cover: "Set in 1937...a romantic comedy of off-Bloomsbury bohemia...Mary Renault wrote this delightfully provocative novel in the early 1940s, creating characters that are lighthearted, charming, and free-spirit
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sexuality
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kike Ramos
Oct 29, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtq
Español / English

Calificación real: 3.5 estrellas.

Dos amigas comienza con Elsie, una chica de 17 años con muchos problemas en casa, que decide huir para buscar a su hermana que se fugó hace 8 años. La idea de huir fue implantada por un médico de 28 años de quien Elsie está enamorada. Elsie encuentra a su hermana Leo, quien vive con Helen, una bella mujer con quien parece tener una relación. Elsie llega a meter drama a la vida de estas dos mujeres.

Una novela muy basada en el desarrollo de los per
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
After I finished this, I had to do a little research into the author and how the book was received in order to feel like I'd really gotten it. The language is great; I was struck how how strongly I was seeing the scenes in my mind while I was reading. It's set in a time period I'm really interested in, and I liked getting another perspective. The thing I struggled with the most was feeling like I'd walked in on the middle of someone else's conversation, especially during exchanges between Leo an ...more
Jan 11, 2008 rated it did not like it
I read this in 2005 and found it to be incredibly frustrating. For one thing, don't believe any of the blurbs on the back of the book - this book is neither a romance nor a comedy. It doesn't really have much at all to say about artists communities in the '30s. And for that matter, it doesn't really have that much to say about lesbian relationships either. The characters are mostly either dispicable or tragic.

After reading this, I wrote a long exposition of my problems with this book here: http
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer-lit
Renault wrote this as a response to Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, as a much lighter, less doom-and-gloom story of lesbian life, set in 1930s Britain. It's definitely quirky and witty, but then my god it's wrenchingly sad. Like Renault's novel The Charioteer, this is a book that holds you and holds you and then in the final moments draws back and knifes you in the chest. It's not even the tragedy you would expect; it's somehow worse than that. Five stars. And five more stars for the sc ...more
Oct 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved Leo and her corduroy slack-wearing, cigarette-smoking, western-writing tomboyishness. Loved the casually bohemian tone of it all. The ending was a bit melodramatic and a bit unsatisfying but otherwise this was delightful and written with great charm and quiet insinuation.
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I like this book for very selfish reasons. (I happened to get it free on Kindle and landed on it a few days ago.) I've read so many independently and self-published authors that it was absolutely delightful to read a book that was EDITED.

I have rather ambiguous feelings for the book. I liked Leo and Helen, but wasn't all that thrilled with some of the things Leo did. I was surprised to read that this book was considered a comedic romance. While it was very well written, I didn't find much of an
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
gorgeous writing, lots of metaphors, strong well shaped characters, very witty and smirky (for example: there's a scene where a swan bites a guy just as he's about to complete his move on a girl.)
weak plotting, poor ending, not great structure - we start off with elsie but it's really a framing device for leo & helen, who have a friends with benefits relationship.
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
lol, this book, omg. So many things to delight and frustrate the contemporary reader!
Dec 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is Renault's third novel, written during the war but set in the time period just prior. It deals with a sheltered young woman, who flees her dysfunctional family to search for her black sheep older sister, who fled the family a number of years earlier, following a disgrace about which no one will talk. She finally finds her sister living on a houseboat on the Thames with another woman in what is clearly a Lesbian relationship. The sister supports herself writing cowboy romances, for which s ...more
May 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lesbians
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbt-bookclub
I accept the author's preference for a more fluid depiction of sexual identity (evident in both this book's lesbian characters' sexual relationships with men and apparently in Renault's own life and that of her partner, upon which the aforementioned characters are apparently arguably based); and I can appreciate to some degree the author's critical reaction to Radclyffe Hall's rather more dismal and didactic lesbian novel (the infamous 'The Well of Loneliness') of a few decades earlier, given Ha ...more
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like The Charioteer I think this is the kind of book that I'll get more from every time I re-read it. So much of her books seems to be in the subtext that it's sometimes a challenge to work out what's actually going on but I enjoy that about them.

The relationships in this one are more tangled so that adds another layer to it. I'm still not entirely sure about what's going on in Leo's head but it seems like she doesn't always have much of an idea either, so that seems fitting. It's difficult to
Jadi Campbell
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've reread this over and over again through the years. The Friendly Young Ladies may be read as a comedy of manners, a meditation on what it means to relate to others as sexual and intellectual equals, as an exploration of what identifies inner freedom (and the consequences thereof), and finally, as an absorbing tale of people who live very differently. Renault's delicate writing is perfect for this tale. In other hands the story would have been heavy-handed; the way she writes, it's very funny ...more
V.T. Davy
May 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
I found this book annoying. It was written in response to the downbeat, seriousness of “The Well of Loneliness”, which the author derides. However, it fails in its attempt to be upbeat and, at points, leaves one with a nasty taste in the mouth regarding the friendly young ladies’ behaviour. Peter’s male arrogance is nicely done and he deserves all he gets, but neither Joe or Leo deserved their unkind fate, which provided a very downbeat ending. Much is made in the novel of “how things like that ...more
Ronald Wise
Aug 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book immensely and had trouble putting it down at times — not due to action-packed drama, but from a keen personal interest in the nuanced interactions of its characters. The two "Afterwards" at the end of the book — one by Renault just before her death, and a later one by Lillian Faderman — were very useful in helping me to understand the author and encapsulate my reactions to this book. Though this novel is noted as an autobiographical story regarding the issue of heterosexualit ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Since Renault is my favorite author, I've been trying to track down and read all of her earlier works, including this one. To say it was a disappointment is unfair, since I hold her on such a pedestal. And this book actually has in it the ingredients that would become some of her later, better books, including The Charioteer. But FYL sort of falls apart otherwise. The characters and setting are interesting as usual, but the story is really unfulfilling. And it's odd that the novel starts with so ...more
Jul 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Though this novel begins with the story of an unattractive and unintelligent girl who lives with her family in Cornwall, fairly early on it switches to the more interesting lives of two women who share a houseboat on the Thames in the late 1930s, and the impact on their (lesbian) relationship brought about by the men they interact with. The novel would not pass muster with the politically correct crowd, but is honest and interesting in its way, and certainly readable. I believe it includes the b ...more
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mary-renault

I am MAYBE 10 pages in and already I'm thinking, "hmm, they won't notice if I read for a few hours in my office right?"

I wanted a book that will last me through the weekend but not be too heavy. I might be in trouble.
Finished. Yeah, I'm a little disappointed in the ending, if Leo is meant to have left but that's not how I read it. I read it as her standing at the crossroads and we are left to fill in the rest with our own imaginations.
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
It started off a bit slowly, but by the end I was unable to put it down (even at the cost of being rude to my parents when they were talking to me.) The entire idea appeals to me--London, house boat, falling in and out of love, friendship. And it is wonderfully written. I disagree with the author about the ending, however. She claims it was too sappy, but I think it couldn't have had any other conclusion.
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
Read and adored The Charioteer last year and so was eager to read Renault's only lesbian novel. On the whole it's a success - emotionally taut, generous to all its characters - but the ending is compromised by the implication that homosexuality is an expression of past hetero trauma. There is hyperbole in the writing too, with Renault's signature fixation on the meeting of souls and hearts and fate. Still I admired it, especially the subplot of Elsie and Peter.
Anywavewilldo Anywavewilldo
sad she had to put a heterosexual ending on this book - when she was queer by writing about gay men in ancient contexts she did so much better - so I can't say I liked the story but it was important she wrote it...
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Mary Renault was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander
More about Mary Renault...