Review: The Geography of Friendship by Sally Piper

We can't ever go back, but some journeys require walking the same path again.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Sally Piper’s second novel, The Geography of Friendship, published by UQP.

Sally Piper’s second novel, The Geography of Friendship is about three women, friends from high school, reuniting after twenty years. The novel is structured around two journeys, one in the present and one in the past. Aged just twenty and ready for adventure, Samantha, Nicole and Lisa set out on a five-day hike in rugged coastal bushland. The idea was to challenge themselves, to test their fitness, test their grit. The turn of events on that first trip challenges each of them in ways they couldn’t have imagined, altering them irrevocably. What happens also destroys their friendship.

When Lisa gets in touch with the other two after two decades and suggests making the journey again, Nicole and Samantha agree, despite their ambivalence. Perhaps they’ll be able to put the traumatic past behind them, or even resurrect the close bond they used to share?

Piper takes the reader on both journeys, threading in details of her characters’ outer lives to show how they were changed by the first. The inhospitable, prickly landscape comes to life and a sense of menace, of breathlessness, is built up as we move through the story. We’re there with the women as they tramp along the costal track, in the historical journey and in the present one. The effect is that of time collapsing; we as readers feel this as the characters go through it.

The novel is also a taut examination of the dynamics of female friendships, of shifts of power, the play of overt and hidden strengths – unspoken yet familiar subtexts rarely brought into daylight.

Each woman takes small independent actions which play a collective part in the drama. They interrogate their early choices and examine the ones they’ve made since. In the best stories you get to ask yourself: what would I have done? The narrative of The Geography of Friendship culminates in a reckoning, an opportunity for revenge, and the reader experiences a moral dilemma along with the characters. It’s easy to imagine righteous anger playing out here; I know what I would have wanted to do, given this chance.

With so much attention focussed on the impact of male aggression on women’s lives, The Geography of Friendship is a timely addition to the conversation. It’s a perfect book club choice. 

This is a great read, written in clean flowing prose; Piper’s is a subtle yet distinctive voice. Her first book, Grace’s Table, was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award – Emerging Queensland Author category. Am heading out to find a copy.

Rating: 3 ½ ★★★☆

The Geography of Friendship

By Sally Piper

Category: Fiction,Fiction
Release Date: 2/07/2018
Pages: 264
ISBN: 978 0 7022 5997 5
Published by UQP
AUD $ 29.95

Liza Dezfouli
About the Author
Liza Dezfouli reviews live performance, film, books, and occasionally music. She writes about feminism and mandatory amato-heteronormativity on her blog WhenMrWrongfeelsSoRight. She can occasionally be seen in short films and on stage with the unHOWsed collective. She also performs comedy, poetry, and spoken word when she feels like it.