The Geography of Friendship is set in a beautiful bush land setting, through which a group of friends retraces a bush walk of decades earlier. However, there is nothing calm or restful about their memories of their past hike.
During their first journey along the isolated trail, when the three friends were full of youthful confidence and bravado, they had been terrorised by a cunning predator, drawn to perfection by Sally Piper with his weak chin and cruel eyes. He is the spectre of women’s nightmares – largely unseen, but sensed for his malevolent, violent presence.
When former friends Samantha, Lisa and Nicole meet to tackle the trail again, they walk over terrain that is similar, but has changed in the intervening years, with bridges and signage where once there were none. In some ways the women have also changed, but in many ways they have remained the same, for better or worse. The book explores the way the friends, and their friendship, were shaped by their past trauma, and how they have protected themselves from memories of their behaviour and that of their predator. It also draws on the way that time continues to impact on their partners and children.
I loved how Piper broke up the tension of the story with vignettes of their lives and descriptions of the natural landscape. She evokes a place of calm and tranquility, of rocky outcrops and wide beaches, contrasting with torrid emotions of the past and the present-day.
I finished The Geography of Friendship in two days, snatching every opportunity I could to read on and find out what happened next – it was gripping, haunting and also oh, so relevant in an era when women are rallying against the violence they fear on the street and see written in the headlines.
I also identified strongly with Piper’s exploration of how we are shaped by our experiences, and how hard it is to break free of our histories. Each of the characters in the book despairs of their own inability to be ‘better’, although their friends continue to see the best in them.
Finally, the book is about loss – a loss of confidence, of innocence and of friendship. While some things are regained, others cannot be, despite the passage of time. So, while the ending might provide a level of closure, the sense of loss remains, perhaps a loss that is recognisable to anyone as they look back on who they were in the past, and who they have become.