CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS, BY SALLY ROONEY
PUBLICATION: HOGARTH; JULY 11, 2017
About the book:
Frances is a cool-headed and darkly observant young woman, vaguely pursuing a career in writing while studying in Dublin. Her best friend and comrade-in-arms is the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi. At a local poetry performance one night, Frances and Bobbi catch the eye of Melissa, a well-known photographer, and as the girls are then gradually drawn into Melissa’s world, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband, Nick. However amusing and ironic Frances and Nick’s flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy, and Frances’s friendship with Bobbi begins to fracture. 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, terribly, with Bobbi.
Desperate to reconcile her inner life 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. Written with gem-like precision and marked by a sly sense of humor, Conversations with Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth, and the messy edges of female friendship.
Readers, if you have not yet discovered new author Sally Rooney, this is an author to watch. I just finished her novel Conversations with Friends and am so full of thoughts I’m not sure where to begin!
Main character, Frances is a twenty-one-year-old student, poet, and intern at a literary agency in Dublin. She does live readings of her poetry with her best friend and former girlfriend Bobbi, where one night they meet a well-known photographer, Melissa. After Melissa invites them home with her for drinks, the evening continues with discussions of art, literature, photography, and politics. Frances and Bobbi meet Melissa’s husband, the actor Nick Conway, and Melissa snaps several pictures of the young women as they drink and talk well into the early morning hours. Thus begins a friendship of sorts between the four of them, where Bobbi is drawn more and more into Melissa’s world and Frances finds herself attracted to Nick. Relationships between the four adults develop, diminish, change, and are reborn throughout this story of Frances learning about herself, her emotions, and her sexuality.
As odd as this may sound considering how much I admire this novel, none of the main characters are very likable. Not trying to be holier than thou by any means, but there was hardly a moral fiber at all between all four of them. Everyone seemed to put on a facade of some sort pretending not to care about this or that, or pretending to care when it came to dinner parties full of important social issues. However, in all honestly, the main characters are quite possibly the most selfish and shallow that I have read about. But it worked beautifully. Frances and Bobbi had been a couple previously, but after Bobbi ending the relationship, they moved back into a close friendship without acknowledging reasons or emotions surrounding their break-up. Nick and Melissa appeared to be “unhappy but o.k. with the status quo,” yet their desires for other people seemed to strengthen their marriage in some bizarre way. Everyone was keeping secrets from everyone, leading to the breakdown of the dynamics between them all, yet they kept making the same mistakes.
Frances claimed to not really have emotions with there being nothing that she really cared about. But as she and Bobbi become closer to Nick and Melissa, the reader sees how untrue this is as she develops feelings for Nick and feels more left out of Bobbi and Melissa’s friendship. Along with the odd inner-workings of those relationships, Frances starts struggling with health issues and the residual effects of her father’s alcoholism. As the novel progresses Frances suffers from numerous issues involving her sexuality, self-esteem, self-harm, and the heartbreak of broken relationships.
Sally Rooney’s writing in Conversations with Friends is raw, emotional, and compelling. The set-up of dialogue takes getting used to regarding who is speaking when, but then it flows effortlessly. The changes with each of the characters are honest and noticeable as things become more tense and intense throughout the story. Rooney perfectly captures the effects of trying to be someone that you are not, as well as, the trap people can fall into making unhealthy choices for themselves emotionally. The conversations vary between shades of honesty, dishonesty, assertiveness, and holding back. Did I respect any of the characters? No, not really. Was I really fond of any of the characters? Not at all. However, I was unable to put this wonderfully written novel down and was moved by the way the author exposed and revealed her characters.
This one may not be everyone’s taste but I strongly recommend giving this one a shot and definitely keep an eye out for more incredible writing from Sally Rooney.
*Thanks to First to Read and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Pre-Order Conversations with Friends on Amazon!