Friday, February 7, 2020

Conversations with Friends: a very short review

Sally Rooney's Normal People is on everybody's Top Books list nowadays, but before getting to that I decided to start with her first book, Conversations with Friends

I loved this odd little book!

I'm definitely not the target audience for Conversations with Friends; it's absolutely a Millenial's book, and that generation gap hit me like a hammer. Plus my gender is wrong, I'm on the wrong continent, the main characters of the book are wholly unlike me, etc.

Still, it's fresh, exciting, immediate, and thoroughly a joy to read.

I liked it so much that I was willing to overlook lots of Rooney's quirks, such as doing away with quotation marks for dialog, or telling significant parts of the story via text message, or having a character whose emails are sent in all lower case.

The harder quirk to overlook, in my reading at least, was the super-naturally self-aware nature of our narrator, Frances. I know I'm not the most introspective person, but there's just no way that a 21-year-old character could be so vividly in control of her own consciousness like this:

When we rang the bell, Melissa answered the door with her camera slung over her shoulder. She thanked us for coming. She had an expressive, conspiratorial smile, which I though she probably gave to all her subjects, as if to say: you're no ordinary subject to me, you're a special favorite. I knew I would enviously practice this smile later in a mirror.


Although I couldn't specify why exactly, I felt certain that Melissa was less interested in our writing process now that she knew I wrote the material alone. I knew the subtlety of this change would be enough for Bobbi to deny it later, which irritated me as if it had already happened. I was starting to feel adrift from the whole setup, like the dynamic that had eventually revealed itself didn't interest me, or even involve me. I could have tried harder to engage myself, but I probably resented having to make an effort to be noticed."

Rooney uses this technique throughout, to tell what is really an inter-mingled story of four very vivid but separate characters from one character's sole narration, allowing our heroine Frances to divine what is in every one else's mind and reveal it to us in passages such as these.

Do people really have such preternaturally accurate reading of each other, especially when they are barely 21?

I guess so; after all, Rooney herself was barely older when she wrote Conversations with Friends, and she clearly has tremendous insight into what makes people tick.

Anyway, why quibble!

Conversation with Friends is wonderful, Rooney is wonderful, that's all I have to say about that!

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