Frances is a coolheaded and darkly observant young woman, vaguely pursuing a career in writing while studying in Dublin. Her best friend is the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi. At a local poetry performance one night, they meet a well-known photographer, and as the girls are then gradually drawn into her world, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and handsome husband, Nick. But however amusing Frances and Nick’s flirtation seems at first, it begins to give way to a strange—and then painful—intimacy.Amazon
This is my review for Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
Atmosphere / Style
It was… modern day and set in Ireland with a bit of a jaunt to France. There was a fair bit of rain. I know that “atmosphere” means more than that, but in this case… I felt it was important to make a note.
More importantly, there was a tone to this novel. The tone was… problematic young woman coming of age. It felt like Alinger. It felt like Hemmingway. Not that it was as good or as moving as those authors… just in the very clipped description and “We went outside to sit in the sun. The sun was hot. What time is it, I said not looking at anyone.” sort of feeling. (not an actual quote)
There are no quotation marks which is a bit odd as there is a fair amount of dialogue. I don’t know if this is the sort of thing Rooney does in all her books, or if this was an intentional choice for this particular story. (Being the deconstructionist that I am, I refuse to look it up.)
Sometimes the lack of quotation marks or even paragraph change made it hard to follow who was talking… but that, at least, I felt was intentional. The two friends in the noble are sometimes mistaken for one another and even the married couple… while being very distinct and separate, have enough overlap that I feel it is symbolic that you could see either of them reacting to things in similar ways.
But I don’t want to jump to characters yet. Sticking with Atmosphere and Style…. I would describe the writing style as straightforward and brutal.
I didn’t like any of the characters. I know that the likability of the characters doesn’t always affect one’s enjoyment of a noble, but in this case, I found that I was affected by how much I didn’t like the protagonist who spoke to us in the first person. I didn’t really “get” her… and again, I think that was, at least in part, intentional on Rooney’s part. Frances doesn’t “get” herself for all her navel-gazing and introspection. She also doesn’t particularly like herself. Nor does she do much more than react to the situations that present themselves to her (with a few notable exceptions). Lastly, Frances spends a lot of time deciding how to act in order to present herself a certain way or trying to use her words and silences as weapons while never really knowing or having an end goal in mind… it makes all her decisions feel vapid and spontaneous even though she can be conniving and manipulative.
Have you ever argued with someone who quoted past conversations from say 6 years ago with startling clarity and then told you what each pregnant pause in that long-ago conversation really meant? Reading Frances’ mind was sort of like that. Frustrating, unreliable despite her best efforts to maintain the opposite, and unsettling.
I didn’t like it.
One nice bit… we had an unapologetic lesbian who was, yes, rather one-note… but omg I knew girls like her in college and she rang very true. We also have Frances who is labeled bisexual and even as she participates in relationships with people of different genders, her sexuality is never really questioned or brought up. This is refreshing. BUT… she is kind of a horrible person… so she is definitely not a bisexual role model.
Another thing I wasn’t a huge fan of. Not a lot happened. There was a lot of talking (so yes, the novel is aptly named) and a lot of thinking and a lot of thinking about what words were being used, and not used, during the talking… but not a lot of plot. The pacing was also a bit off. THis book is twice as long as it needs to be because as Frances must still and stew about past, present, or future conversations, so must the reader. This might have been saved if the ending had been an ending… but it wasn’t. The book just stopped with no character growth and nothing resolved.
Why THIS book?
At this point, you are probably wondering. By about halfway through the book, I was wondering the same thing. But… well, book club decided to “read an Irish book” for the month of March and I picked this one because it was set in Ireland and was on sale at Target. I didn’t read it until the week before book club though so even though I was not enjoying it and was pretty sure it was going to end in a way that bugged me… I kept going.
Entertaining / Would I recommend it?
Maybe you read the back and were smitten. Maybe you have read this review and are thinking “but omg, that sounds like my kind of book!” If so, go in peace. If you are local, I will give it to you. Because honestly? Ugh. It looks like chick-lit… but it was profoundly unfun. It could be a coming of age story, but there is no character growth. There is a torrid affair, but the sex scenes are bland and … dry. And yeah, “dry” is not the world you want for anything sex-related IMHO. I really wanted to feel for Frances… In the first third of the book I was rooting for her… but eventually I just wanted her to shush.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?T This? Why did I read *This* book?