CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS by Sally Rooney
This was stupidly good. After recently loving Rooney’s sophomore novel Normal People my expectations for Conversations With Friends were high, though I was also a bit wary; in these situations I’m always afraid an author’s debut isn’t going to live up. I needn’t have worried. This was perfect from start to finish. You know that feeling when you miss a stair and your stomach lurches briefly before you land – this was that sensation in book form.
Once again I was impressed with Rooney’s writing; it’s simple and seemingly effortless, but the kind of natural and conversational cadence she achieves is no easy feat. The simultaneous intelligence and lack of life experience of the narrator, Frances, were captured so convincingly; from the start this was a person that I wanted to understand, whose head I wanted to inhabit briefly. Sally Rooney writes about interpersonal dynamics with such skill and ease and sharp observation, and that was the shining point of this novel, but whenever Frances looked inward, those moments were also captured with the same unnerving clarity. I related to Frances and I didn’t; I saw bits of myself in her and I found bits of her unreachable. But Rooney made me care, she earned my investment as I watched with sympathy and frustration and anxiety as Frances attempted to navigate an awkward, ill-thought-out affair with an older married man, a dynamic which only complicated her limited understanding of love, class, status, artistic freedom, and belonging.
If you can’t handle books about unlikable, selfish people, you aren’t going to enjoy this, and in that sense alone I don’t necessarily believe this book transcends its premise. It’s about unlikable, selfish people, many of whom are blind to their privilege. It’s not about the kind of people you want to be, or want to be friends with. But if you’re willing to sacrifice likability for realism, and an unpredictable plot for moments of startling self-reflection, this is the book for you. I actually ended up preferring this to Normal People, but both are a solid 5 stars and I am simply delighted that Sally Rooney’s books have entered my life.