Conversations With Friends By Sally Rooney

Late at night, after finishing a book the day before, I was flitting around the Kent e-library looking for something to read. I have this scheme – classic book alternating with recently published book. It was time for the recently published book, which is always more tricky to find than the classic.

Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends popped up on the ‘available now’ list. Her name was familiar – television productions of her novels came to mind.

I had a look. This accidental introduction turned out to be quite fitting for Conversations With Friends – which is about chaotic relationships, as narrated by Frances, a young woman studying ill-defined arty subjects at university in Dublin. Recently she has ‘broken up’ with childhood friend, and performance poetry partner, Bobbi, though they still hang out together all the time. A journalist called Melissa wants to do a profile on the poetry duo, which leads Frances into an affair with Melissa’s husband, Nick. This entanglement is on, then it’s off, then it’s on again. Meanwhile, Frances has hassles with finances, her family, psychological state, and health. She has high-falutin’ discussions about human relations with Bobbi who fashions herself as an aggressive left-wing intellectual. Bobbi considers marriage to be capitalism’s way of controlling people in the interests of money. Then Frances writes a story inspired by her unconventional love for Bobbi, which earns a handsome fee of 800 euros!

The book is written in an oddly plain style. There is minimal conventional punctuation – no speech marks. Paragraphs are split into blocks rather than bothering with indents – more like a blog than a novel. You also get the feeling that this lack of convention is carefully planned. This seemed part of the feeling that lack of convention can actually be conventional – as is the case with youngsters who think they are rebellious when in fact it is just normal to be young and rebellious.

This was a sometimes intense, sometimes flippant book about the way people live together. I was going to say it’s a ‘study’ of this subject, but that’s not the right word. For all the intellectual pretensions of the literary scene/university setting, the characters’ relationships refuse to be categorised or analysed, and kind of just happen in front of you.

Perhaps in the end, the relationship I found most interesting in the book was the one with the reader. While Frances, Nick, Melissa, Bobbi and the rest, dodge around each other, revealing or concealing this and that, Frances tells the reader everything, even things she keeps from her own mother. Sometimes I was thinking, ‘too much information, Frances’. Nevertheless, I was trusted to hear all of these revelations, like a best friend. And the irony is, this patient listener is unacknowledged, as though a relationship with an entirely absent reader is the only one where the narrator can be honest – which is typical of the contradictory way people interact in the book. The only person you can be truly honest with isn’t even there. Everyone else gets gradations of honesty.

Overall I would say this was a conversation that had its ups and downs, but ultimately came out as a very worthwhile chat

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