THE FRIENDSHIP TEST is as soothing and warm as a cup of Twinings English Breakfast Tea. What the whimsical cover lacks in style, author Elizabeth Noble makes up for with her delightful use of British terminology --- bloke, bonkbusters, bloody bop, pub --- and her insightful look at how friendship experiences its own "passage." I found Noble's British heritage prevalent in her writing and very enjoyable to read.
Friends to lovers, lovers to friends, timeless friends, temporary friends, toxic friends --- friendship can take many directions. Freddie, Tamsin, Reagan and Sarah embellish their lives over a 20-year period with friendships that survive time, tragedy and betrayal. The bond of friendship the girls form as students at Oxford University in the United Kingdom endures the passage of time and distance and proves to be an indelible part of who they are. They form The Tenko Club in their first semester. "Club rules were simple: men, children, work, shopping and chocolates --- important, but not as important. When they need you, you are there. No giving up."
Freddie is an American student studying at Oxford. She is tall and beautiful and becomes instant friends with Tamsin. Her titled husband Adrian is a cad whose affair frees Freddie from a marriage that was "just not enough." Tamsin, the English mother hen, marries her college sweetheart and remains happily married throughout, naming her children after favorite authors and literary characters --- Willa, Flannery, Homer, Willoughby. Sarah is "the one men drooled over," and Reagan is the one who can't keep a man. Why? "It's no wonder, with that spiky attitude. I don't know why you make so many allowances for her, Sarah." "Because that's what you do for your friends."
The reader is invited to share in the girls' memories of their beloved friend Sarah, who is tragically killed. "They talked about her (Sarah) a lot, too, which they hadn't lately. Not in the context of her death, but about the life they shared with her." Their memories of the summer they graduated from Oxford and the trip they all took together are poignant and heartwarming. "They had been the golden days." Anyone who has lost a dear friend to death will appreciate the message to remember the "golden days."
Noble's simple, everyday conversations between friends about a new love, their children, the experience of giving birth, their fears and their joys are captured affectionately: "Love you, miss you, see you soon." "Love you miss you, see you soon too." "The air kissed loudly and hung up." A common conversation like this suddenly becomes more meaningful as we recall having it ourselves and remembering the friend we had it with.
When Freddie's father dies and Adrian reveals his affair on the same day, the Tenko Club rallies to Freddie's side. They accompany her across the pond to Boston for the funeral and stay with her on Cape Cod as she meets her estranged mother for the first time. The possibility of a new friendship between mother and daughter presents itself late in Freddie's life. The Tenko Club helps her. At this point, the friendship between Sarah's widower and Freddie blossoms into love --- showing how the course of friendship can change with time. Together they must deal with Reagan's jealousy, betrayal and impetuous behavior firmly, but never once excluding her from the treasured friendship circle.
Elizabeth Noble gathers the Tenko Club together in THE FRIENDSHIP TEST for Thanksgiving holidays, birth, death, tragedy, "a tipsy evening with a few girlfriends," christenings, love, laughter, tears. Freddie shares her most intimate feelings with Tamsin about love, her failed marriage and the complexity of becoming involved with their dear friend Sarah's widower. On Christmas Day in London the scene is one we have all experienced --- friends and family gathered together in celebration. Tamsin says it best: "It had been another of the golden days they had all shared, and another of the silken ties that bound them together."
As we reach the final chapters, we have been privy to four remarkable women's lasting friendship. Their friendship has deepened, and they have grown and shared some of life's best and worst moments --- together. The message is golden: cherish the "silken ties" of friendship.
Reviewed by Hillary Wagy on January 22, 2011
The Friendship Test