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Conversations with Friends - Sally Rooney

Updated: Jan 7, 2019

Everyone told me that I would prefer 'Conversations with Friends' compared to Rooney's recently released book 'normal people'. I'm not sure that this was proved to be true. This book will split people like marmite – people either love it or hate it!

This was a peculiar book. I think possibly the plot of the novel and the characters were unusual compared to the type of book I might otherwise normally read, that being said I am glad of the experience to try something different!

The plot follows the story of the protagonist Frances and her best friend, one-time lover Bobbi and their entanglement and affairs with a married older couple. While an Irish novel and set in Dublin, this made no impact on the story line – indeed, this could have been set anywhere. I didn’t really connect with this story, it is a book about characters that are not very nice people all intertwined in one messy and awkward relationship.

I can't say that I particularly liked the plot line that was unfolding in front of me. The book is told from Frances’ perspective, a quite confused and unpredictable protagonist – she seems unaware of what she wants, and her actions make her hard to empathise with. Frances’s character was flat and boring – it was hard to care about what happened to her as she had such a disregard for everyone else’s feelings. She was, in my opinion a self-centered and rather selfish person. For all the references to Frances being clever I found her distinctively clueless, pretentious and nowhere near as smart as she thinks she is. Indeed, I found nearly all the characters were narcissistic, self-absorbed and cruel to many extents. This had an impact on my investment in the book – I didn’t really care of the outcome. In a way I would have enjoyed it more if there had been an outright villain or ‘baddie’, I would have been more invested than in four merely selfish and pathetic characters. Bobbi was the only character I felt had redeemable qualities – I think a book from her perspective might have played out to be a more enjoyable read.

There was an inescapable sense of loneliness with the novel feeling desperate at times. Frances appears to be disconnected from her own struggles; she hides from her own condition, appears to have lost all feelings for her alcoholic father and reverts to self-harm at sporadic periods throughout the novel. While not necessarily a sympathetic character she certainly is deep and layered. The characters were flawed and damaged with the desperate need to figure themselves out. It does however, acknowledge the complexity of relationships and in a way highlights how messy and grey relationships can be.

One part of the novel refers to the short story Frances writes about Bobbi, I think this would have been a rather interesting read…a spin book maybe? I’m not sure if we were meant to take much away from the book or if it was simply a glimpse at four imperfect people’s lives and effect on each other. I feel like not a lot happens in this book which is ironic considering the abundance of drama that ensues. The plot builds around Frances’s growing affair with the husband Nick. It wasn’t a particularly enjoyable relationship to watch unfold and I did not really feel the passion or intimacy I might have expected to.

Rooney did have a different writing style to your typical author, with her disregarding the need for quotation marks. While this did not bother me, I can see it might not appeal to everyone. The story line did not feel particularly modern and in that sense made it less realistic – with communication being via email, something no 21-year-old I know messages their boyfriends on. Rooney’s writing is simple and does flow in an apparently effortless way which does make this book easy to read. I believe she is a very good author, as while I did not connect with the book, I also could not put it down. As much as I was disinterested in these ‘conversations’ I found myself not being able to stop reading – for me, the sign of a good book!


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