Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

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Having read Sally Rooney’s second book, Normal People, I was interested in moving back into her orbit. As I mentioned in writing about that book, while I was happy to accept her terms and live in that world, I was glad to get back to my own world of “normal people.”

Frances, the narrator of this one is in college and along with her former girlfriend Bobbi, does spoken word performances that she writes. Bobbi is attractive and socially graceful and knows how to work a room successfully. Compared to her Frances feels unattractive, but has pride in her ability to write. They catch the attention of a couple in their thirties, and the interactions of the foursome grows complicated and for me, tedious. Adultery should make an interesting story, but can be just tiresome.

Frances has significant difficulties to overcome in her life, yet I found myself quite unsympathetic. I had just finished listening to the very moving stories recounted in Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, and in contrast to those lives, Frances’s reactions to her problems were not inspirational.¬†While Frances had a moment of clarity about her interactions with her close friends, the book ends with the promise of more self-destructive behavior, including self-harm.

Many conversations among the friends are quoted and, as human interactions often are, they were dull, full of misinformation and misdirection, and pretty pointless and, in short, only of interest to the participants. So, we have to wonder, what was the point of reporting these conversations?

One snippet of conversation that caught my attention was one Frances recounts to give an example of the typical conversations she and Bobbi had. In this case they are discussing landscape painting:

Bobbi thought the fetishization of untouched nature was intrinsically patriarchal and nationalistic. “I like houses better than fields,” I observed. “They are more poetic because they have people in them.”

It was the absurdity of the thoughts that I noticed, but perhaps its point is to show Frances’s detached way of describing herself and her friend.

The trajectory of Rooney’s writing is in the right direction, so I would be interested in her next book.

Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends, Hogarth, 2018, 336 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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