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A Review of Kavita Bedford’s “Friends and Dark Shapes”: sharehouses, the gig economy, and millennial living

This is one of those times where I bought the book because the cover was just too beautiful. Despite the old saying about judging books, sometimes a good cover can work wonders on our buying habits – I am definitely not immune. The premise of the book – sharehouse living, figuring out adult life in the gig economy and casualisation and living in a big city, in this case, Sydney.

I find it comforting to see more and more books reflect what it is like to grow up in Australia in the 90s and 00s. In particular, the phenomenon of share houses alone offers a unique (shall we say) experience to everyone who has ever tried it or is still doing it. I thankfully only really did it while I lived abroad in Austria, but that was already enough. And why are people living in shared living environments? I don’t think it is because they love it, I think it comes out of necessity – people can rarely afford a place just for themselves. On top of that, the gig economy and casualisation of the workforce means that I know more people who are in their late 20s and 30s working casual, read no proper sick leave, holiday pay, benefits, than I know people who have a salaried income. For a long time, these kinds of experiences seemed to be happening to everyone all over Australia, and yet the literary world wasn’t really reflecting those experiences. Until now.

Kavita Bedford is a Sydney-based author which gives her a particular advantage when talking about the city. Each city has its own personality and Bedford captures Sydney, and Redfern well. The narrator of the novel is Indian-Anglo Australian and works as a journalist. The instability of income, rent, relationships, and the future, in general, are all central themes to the novel. But this is also a novel about grief. The protagonist’s father passes away and the gravity of that grief coupled with the general angst of a whole generation is captivated in the narrator’s prose. When my father died in my mid-20s, I felt very alone in my grief. All of my friends had stable families and lives in ways I had never known. To see some of my own grief from that time reflected back at me in Bedford’s writing was bittersweet.

None of the characters in the novel really have proper names, they are often just given nicknames that reflect their occupation or a hobby. This speaks to the kind of transient nature of sharehouse living and also the desire to keep a distance from the people around you. You don’t want to get too close. People come and go and keeping tabs is exhausting and painful when things don’t work out. This insecurity is just as much for intimate relationships as it is for friendships in these environments. Everyone is on the move, but not really sure where they are going.

Bedford reminds me of an Australian Sally Rooney, where she is just able to capture the worries and hopes of a generation in her writing. The novel was published in March 2021 so is fairly new, but I am excited to see what Bedford has up her sleeve for her next novel.