Review: Conversation With Friends by Sally Rooney

36136386Verdict: This book is everything.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by Faber & Faber, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind–and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil–and Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh. But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect. As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi. Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances’s intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.

I have spent the last days periodically exclaiming “God, what a book” (or more correctly, because I do speak German in my real life, “Gott, was ein Buch!” or “Dieses Buch!”). I am feeling vaguely guilty for having given other books five stars because this book is just so much more than most of those. I am in no way objective in my absolute adoration and I don’t think I can adequately articulate how very brilliant I thought this was, so stick with me while I squeal and talk in superlatives.

I dragged my feet reading this book because the reviews are all over the place and it could have been so obnoxious (and some people think it is!): I mean, a book focussing on four fairly privileged young people making themselves miserable? A book where a thirty-something married man starts an affair with a 20-year-old college student? But this book hit me in all the right places. Rooney expertly weaves her tale, her characterization is sharp enough to cut, and her protagonist is a flawed piece of brilliance. Frances grounds this story in a way that worked exceedingly well for me and I found her, while infuriating, insanely relatable and incredibly true to life. Other reviewers have characterized her as unlikable – but I could not disagree more. She behaves stupidly, sure, but she is also lost and sad and sharply book smart while lacking emotional intelligence and I found her so very compelling. She is both the more active part of the relationship while also letting things just happen without taking action. She is incapable of communicating effectively while still being observant.

Rooney also manages something incredible here: she made me feel for the thirty-year-old man sleeping with a much younger woman and lying to his wife. Nick could have been a walking cliché, but Rooney made him so much more well-rounded while never flinching away from the fact that he behaves atrociously. Every single one of the four main characters felt real in a way that fictional characters so rarely do, precisely because Rooney lets them be contradictory and, yes, sometimes unpleasant. But for me this unpleasantness never overshadowed the sympathy I felt for all of them.

I cannot see this book not topping my best of the year list, which on the one hand is great, on the other hand it is only March and I have a whole lot Women’s Prize reading ahead of me. I will read everything Rooney had ever written or will ever write, starting with Normal People when it’ll arrive this weekend.

18 thoughts on “Review: Conversation With Friends by Sally Rooney

  1. I love the mental image of your periodically yelling about this book in German. Was ein Buch indeed!!! And I completely agree about Nick, I was so very surprised at that character’s depths. I’m so excited to hear your thoughts on Normal People.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankfully my partner was also amused. Otherwise I would have been very difficult to live with I assume.
      I cannot get over the fact that Rooney made me feel sympathy for Nick! And so expertly!
      I cannot wait for Normal People. I was planning on maybe not reading this as my next Women’s Prize book and keeping it for a rainy day but who am I even kidding.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad to hear you loved this! I bought Normal People when I was in town today, so hopefully I’ll pick it up soon! I loved her short Faber Story, Mr Salary, and can’t wait to try her full length work 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so excited for Normal People! I had planned on reading The Silence of the Girls first of the books I bought a hardcopy of but I am not sure I’ll manage to not read Normal People first.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Completely agree. I came late to Sally Rooney, only reading Conversations With Friends in August – and ordered Normal People straight away. Should I feel like an old fart for liking WB Yeats though? Think Nick and Frances scorned people who did!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so looking forward to Normal People! Rooney really blew my mind with this book.
      I am sure it’s ok to likes Yeats; Nick and Frances aren’t the best people to base opinions on 🙂


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