By Catherine Rainey / firstname.lastname@example.org
In her debut novel, Sally Rooney writes of an introspective young woman who’s just getting to know who she is. Well, perhaps figuring it out. If you haven’t heard of the 28-year-old author, now is your chance. This Irish-born self-proclaimed Marxist has a refreshing take in Conversations with Friends. Read this book with an open mind, and you won’t be disappointed.
Set in Ireland, Rooney takes us on a European adventure full of love, lust, intellect, confusion, heart-ache and intrigue. There is a sort of detached personal understanding while falling into the pages. The poetic protagonist Frances, over-thinks constantly, is self-aware to a fault, and wonders if she’s capable of loving.
Rooney writes of the trials and tribulations of an unsure college student caught up in life’s lessons. Yet, Frances isn’t your average 21-year-old, bustling to and fro to parties and study sessions with her peers. She and her former partner, Bobbi, spend their time reading poetry aloud (spoken word) at local venues, exploring feminism and politics, and fraternizing with older well-to-do types.
After a night of reading, they’re invited back to a fellow writer and photographer’s home. Melissa and her attractive actor husband, Nick, are much older with relationship issues that seem to almost tie them together. The dinner is nice, but Frances often worries about herself, trying to convince herself that she is in fact likeable. “I’d told Nick that everyone preferred Bobbi to me, but that wasn’t really true. Bobbi could be abrasive and unrestrained in a way that made people feel uncomfortable, while I tended to be encouragingly polite.” Melissa and Bobbi seem to get along great, which leaves Nick and Frances getting to know each other. Little did they know that a mere dinner gathering would turn into something much more.
We often get glimpses into Frances’s personal life. Her father struggles with alcoholism and her mother, who divorced him a long time ago, ignores the impact it’s having on Frances. There are some very deep internal monologues during the dark times in her mind, and you wonder if that’s the writer in her or merely what it’s like being a young adult going through various stressors.
Through everything, from character development and dialogue to scenery explanation, Rooney does not shy away from talk of philosophy, capitalism, communism, and the impact society has on individuals including refugees. “…some of these people have degrees…whatever about the others, imagine turning doctors away…” With this remark Bobbi answers, “What does that mean? Don’t let them in unless they’ve got a medical degree?” Even if you find this conversation unorthodox, Rooney reminds you that these problems exist within and out of a fictional novel. We are also reminded that writing is subjective. While you may read the same thing, each person walks away with a unique take.
Frances and Nick begin a secret affair and enjoy their time together intensely. Their meet-ups are full of passion and cryptic flirting. After finding out of Melissa’s past infidelities, you can’t help but root for them in hopes that love will prevail. Again, you get what is not expected. After some details come to light, things become almost less complicated. While some relationships would fall apart at the mere mention of polyamory, Rooney makes you think that maybe, at least in this setting, it might work. Just maybe.
As the conclusion approaches, although a tad hurried and not entirely agreeable, Rooney leaves you hoping for more. Whether for yourself or the characters, you long for closure. Her next novel Normal People is said to be similar: a love affair with the novel ending before the protagonist graduates college. This may be my next read, until then, we will wait with anticipation for her next!
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