Conversations with Friends is an intimate debut novel by young author Sally Rooney which explores identity, relationships and the perils of stumbling through your 20s.
The story follows four characters, narrated by protagonist Frances – a 21-year-old student and poet, half of a spoken word duo, and equally 50% of the friendship with performance partner, best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi.
Set in Dublin, the book sees Bobbi and Frances meet Melissa – a wealthy writer and photographer – who welcomes them into her home where they meet her husband Nick.
The blurb reads: Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed and observant. A student in Dublin and an aspiring writer, at night she performs spoken word with her best friend Bobbi, who used to be her girlfriend. When they are interviewed and then befriended by Melissa, a well-known journalist who is married to Nick, an actor, they enter a world of beautiful houses, raucous dinner parties and holidays in Provence, beginning a complex ménage-à-quatre. But when Frances and Nick get unexpectedly closer, the sharply witty and emotion-averse Frances is forced to honestly confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time.
Sally Rooney completed the book whilst studying her master’s degree in American literature, winning her the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer Award 2017.
Between unpunctuated conversations, characters grow close – too close – fall apart – argue – make up. It offers a rollercoaster of emotions as Frances attempts to establish her own identity after living in Bobbi’s popular and vibrant shadow. It’s not just Frances and Nick’s relationship depicted in the novel, but we are also given insight into the relationships between Nick and Melissa, Melissa and Bobbi, and Bobbi and Nick.
The conversations are, at first, difficult to read due to the lack of speech marks, but Sally’s style of writing soon becomes second nature. Though I do find it difficult to believe that most of the digital conversations were conducted over email, rather than text, in such a digital age.
Conversations with Friends is messy, exploring the politics of love and friendship in a chaotic and honest way. Sally writes openly about difficult themes, including identity, sex, self harm and detachment. Frances is on a road to self destruction which can make for gut-wrenching reading – but there’s something so powerful about the raw realness of it.
The dialogue in the book were incredibly intelligent, discussing hard-hitting issues like politics and feminism. I also appreciated Sally Rooney highlighting endometriosis, and the laws around abortion in Ireland. Despite only being around 300 pages long, a lot of interesting ground was covered, and I couldn’t put it down, reading it cover to cover in three days.
Some reviews suggest the characters are unbelievable and unrelatable – but I think they’re simply blind with privilege, having never found themselves in a toxic relationship. Conversations with Friends couldn’t be truer to real life – it’s just a darker side of it people would rather pretend doesn’t exist incase they find themselves sucked into it. I found it an interesting and compelling read, and I can’t wait to get stuck into Normal People.