Before Sex and the City or Girls, there was The Group, a novel set in 1930s New York. Written by Mary McCarthy in 1963, it chronicles the lives of eight friends who, upon graduating from university, are attempting to make their way in Manhattan. McCarthy portrays life for this group of women without any fictional or nostalgic sugar coating, which to readers of '60s America, in which the shiny ideal of the housewife was starting to tarnish, must have seemed strangely pertinent. As they learn to reconcile the idea of what they thought life in their twenties would be like, with the often-less than ideal reality, grappling with men, love, careers, family expectations, it quickly becomes obvious that, even though almost a century has passed, these are the same things that still preoccupy and challenge women today.
From the East Coast of America to the Deep South, could there be a more fitting book on the theme of sisterhood than Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood? Written through the eyes of Siddalee Walker, daughter of the exuberant yet troubled Scarlett O'Hara-esque Vivi Abbott Walker, this book tells of a group of friends that every woman wants to be part of: the Ya-Yas. Friends since childhood, these four girlfriends spent halcyon childhood days in Louisiana, sitting out on verandas, talking, dreaming and scheming, and then spending endless laughter-filled days with their own brood of children.
Beneath the brilliant traditions and rituals of the Ya-Yas – every year they celebrated the anniversary of their friendship with a party, their husbands sending them flowers – at the heart of this book lies the enduring power of friendship and sisterhood.
Fiction aside, everyone's got a sisterhood - a group of friends who somehow know you without explanation. Who will turn up at Heathrow and sing ‘Lean on Me’ when you arrive back home for Christmas; dance with you at your hen party or commiserate when things don’t go so well. Who will listen without judgement; laugh with you till you cry, and cry with you till you laugh. The secrets of sisterhood may be divine, but look around, you'll find magic in your own group of friends.
Words by Annabel Matterson. The Iris Letter November 2017.