Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney has been on my radar after watching Normal People on the TV, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Actually, enjoyed is probably not the right word as that implies fun and lightness, but as with Conversations with Friends, her stories are not really what I would call easy: they are close examinations of the intricacies and complexities of relationships and the people involved in them and I have to say that she depicts these very well.

Frances is a student, who, along with her friend, Bobbi meets Melissa and Nick. Melissa is originally interested in doing a feature on the girls and over time, they become friends who meet up and socialise together. Nick is an actor, handsome and desirable and Frances is drawn to him as Bobbi is to Melissa.

The novel focuses on Frances’ and Nick’s relationship as told from Frances’ perspective. Frances is seen as someone very distant; an observer of people who perhaps is slightly scornful of others. There is a sense that people are intimidated by her and don’t like her very much. However, she is quite a vulnerable individual who needs to feel in control and can do things to hurt herself when she can feel it slipping away. She has a difficult relationship with her father and there are parallels between Frances’ behaviour and his of which perhaps she is subconsciously aware and this is part of her problem.

Frances’ and Nick’s affair is not a passionate thing, certainly not in the bodice-ripping romantic way: they have sex and Frances claims to love him but her descriptions of their love-making are detached and factual almost. I’m not sure if this is Rooney’s writing style or if this is Frances’ view of them, a way of Rooney depicting Frances’ difficulty with getting emotionally involved. I wonder if this novel is less about the affair and more about Frances coming to terms with who she is and how she treats people and how others view her; a complex coming-of-age story and character study more than a tale of love.

Whatever the book sets out to present, it has great character development and I felt like I was reading something literary, thoughtful and quite deep, rather than popular fiction.

A good read but if I have a gripe, it is that it ended a bit abruptly; I had questions beyond the book which was, is, frustrating.

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