Did this February seem particularly dreary everywhere, or just in rainy LA? There’s been so much rain on the West Coast that it’s felt a bit like Ireland—very green and very, very damp! Dublin, Ireland is also the setting of the only book we finished this month: Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. It may not have kept up with our New Years reading resolution, but this fantastic novel was everything I want in a rainy-day read: with great dialogue and vivid images that make the reader feel not only that you’re in the story, but oh!—how much you’d like to step into the rooms with them.
Rooney is hailed as “the first great millennial novelist”—and this reader would be hard-pressed to disagree, having devoured the book once in a weekend only to immediately flip back to page 1 and begin rereading. The novel focuses on four characters—Frances and Bobbi, Nick and Melissa—though the book’s title seems to alternate between questioning and tongue-in-cheek. Are they friends, lovers, rivals, or some utterly murky combination? The precarious but deep intimacies between these four characters anchor Conversations With Friends.
The narrator, Frances, is our central character in the foursome, and utterly compelling, in turns issuing clever flirtations, cool-yet-vulnerable retorts, and precise—at times sharp, at times poignant—observations about the world on-the-page that seem ever-relevant to the world off it. She and Bobbi are in their early twenties, performing spoken word at open mics and vaguely attending university in Dublin. At one such open mic, they meet Melissa—a writer and photographer who gives off the impression of being vaguely older, more adult and more successful. The younger women are gradually drawn into Melissa’s world, and Frances’ reluctant envy of and admiration for Melissa’s husband, Nick, similarly gradually gives way to their affair.
It’s clear Frances often feels shadowed by her best friend, Bobbi—Frances, watching Bobbi and Nick, or Nick and Melissa, seems to imagine the connections between the rest more interesting, more exciting than her connections with each of them—and it’s the interpersonal connections, and misconceptions like this, which drive the story forward in an utterly engaging way. The novel’s press kit sums it nicely:
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.
The style and tone of Conversations With Friends feel similar to Zadie Smith’s in NW: observant and precise, at times indifferent, and completely, deliciously pleasurable to read.