That is the truth of someone’s character: how a person makes you feel after you walk away from spending time with them.”
Kavita Bedford’s Friends & Dark Shapes is an exceedingly millennial novel. We have a directionless and nameless narrator, a modern flâneur who is afflicted by a vague sense of ennui. There are no quotation marks because apparently, they are passé, and a meandering story that consists of a series of ‘relatable’ vignettes portraying disagreements between housemates, commutes, get-togethers, conversations with strangers.
Our Indian-Australian narrator is approaching thirty and she works as a freelance journalist. She lives with three other people who are around her age. The narrative strings together snapshots of her everyday life in Sydney, capturing certain moments or conversations that our narrator has indoors and when she’s out and about. While the manner in which she observes those around her is somewhat anthropological, the people populating this novel never come truly in focus. They are hazy renditions of a certain type of person, and they never struck me as particularly fleshed out our multidimensional. The narrator too is exceedingly generic. Her voice, if anything, is far too mild and forgettable compared to other millennial narrators. Her housemates functioned as comedic relief, either giving witty spiels about the state of the world today or ‘relatable’ lines about their love lives or jobs. For some reason when they voiced their concerns over their future (especially when they talked about mortgages) I just felt really disconnected from them. Maybe because in my eyes most of them were already doing the kind of careers they wanted to (ahem i am stuck in customer service hell), well, their worries frustrated me somewhat. Maybe those who are closer to them in age will be able to get them in a way I couldn’t…
The narrator often thinks about her father, who died sometime before the beginning of the novel. Childhood episodes pepper her narrative and these don’t really give us a clear image of this man nor of his relationship with her.
Still, I did like Bedford’s vibrant portrayal of Sydney. She renders its rhythms, giving us some vivid descriptions of its streets and neighbourhoods. The dialogues too, if repetitive, had this mumblecore quality that I appreciated and it suited the naturalistic tone of the novel. The narrator often slips into a collective ‘we’ to describe certain events/situations or when making ‘relatable’ millennial statements. I can’t say that I was a fan of this technique as it succeeded in blurring different characters and their voices together.
my rating: ★★★¼