Recent Reading: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
I still have three Booker novels to finish and review, but in the meantime I thought I’d post about other books I’ve been reading (yes, I do read books that are not on awards longlists!). I read this one because it was in my TBR from last year and it seemed helpful to read it before going on to Normal People. I liked it better than the latter, although I think Normal People is probably the better book in terms of execution.
Rooney’s debut novel has been wildly praised and hyped. She has been called the voice of her generation, and her agent’s coining of the phrase “Salinger of the Snapchat generation” has been repeated approvingly. With the praise and hype has come the inevitable backlash. When I sat down with the novel I tried to shut out the noise and concentrate on the pages in front of me. And mostly it worked. It’s very much a debut novel, but it’s quite assured, and Rooney definitely has a distinctive voice.
The plot/storyline is very basic: Undergraduates Frances (our narrator) and her best friend (and ex-girlfriend) Bobbi fall in with a rich, glamorous married couple in their 30s. Nick is an actor, Melissa is a journalist and writer. Bobbi is drawn to Melissa, Frances to Nick. They socialize , run into each other at professional and art events, and spend time in France together. Nick and Melissa’s marriage is complicated, and so are the four characters’ relationships with each other (in pairs and multiples).
The novel is made up of extremely familiar themes and characters:
- The older man-younger woman relationship, with the older man being married. Points for Nick not being a professor, even though this is set at college.
- The intense female friendship (IFF), which has become a thematic cottage industry for women writers in the last couple of decades.
- The coming-of-age novel, set at university. This never ever gets old, apparently, because every cohort comes of age and many of them either do it at college or find college interesting. And enough older cohorts want to read about it across the ages.