My friend bought me this book for my birthday, and in the past few weeks I finally got round to reading it!
‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney is about two university students- Bobbi and Frances- who write and perform poetry, mixing with literary, artsy types and very much fitting into the type cast of “artsy” students.
As well as conversing with fellow literature students, the two girls also spend time with people from the art and publishing world.
Early on in the book, Bobbi and Frances meet Nick and Melissa, a dysfunctional thirty-something married couple. With her foot in the publishing world, Melissa is a valuable contact for Bobbi and Frances, and she decides to publish a profile on the girls, inviting them into her circle and even inviting them on holiday to France later in the book. Melissa and Nick represent an artsy, rich class of people. In short, they are all incredibly pretentious.
The girls gradually start to visit Melissa and Nick more and more, with Melissa and Bobbi really connecting. And soon, it becomes clear that Frances and Nick have some sort of connection, despite the wide age gap, and they start up a secret emailing relationship.
As an actor, Nick is (predictably) “unpredictable”, but it becomes clear that Melissa and Nick are unhappy in their relationship and it’s not long before Frances and Nick move from an intellectual online relationship, to an illicit affair.
The book centres on Nick and Frances’ affair, and her feelings about it, as the book is narrated from her point of view. She has previously only slept with women (Bobbi is her ex-girlfriend), and she has conflicted feelings about sex with Nick and where she stands with him. It soon becomes clear to Frances that she’s falling for Nick, and so the book explores how she feels about him, and her intense intellectual and emotional jealousy for Melissa.
I’ll be honest, a lot of things about this book annoyed me. In particular, I didn’t think the characters were very captivating.
For me, Bobbi was a very stereotypical, flat character. A loud, purposefully “controversial” figure, I found her boring as a character, and obnoxious as a person. Everything she said was supposedly “controversial” or “profound” and I disagreed with most of her thoughts on love, sex and relationships.
“Who even gets married? said Bobbi. It’s sinister. Who wants state apparatuses sustaining their relationship?
I don’t know. What is ours sustained by?
That’s it! That’s exactly what I mean. Nothing. Do I call myself your girlfriend? No. Calling myself your girlfriend would be imposing some prefabricated cultural dynamic on us that’s outside our control. You know?”
While I disagreed with many of her actions, I much preferred Frances’ character, and I was glad the book was from her point of view.
I was also not particularly captivated by Nick and Frances’ relationship. Apart from the fact that Nick was married and so the relationship was wrong on a moral level, I found Nick annoying as a character, and it seemed to me that he acted like a troubled victim, weak and helpless, and yet he was the one in a marriage and sleeping with a uni student.
However, although I thought this book was pretentious, and I didn’t like any of the characters except from Frances (at times), there were some aspects of this book I enjoyed. I actually really liked Rooney’s writing style, and it was an easy, quick read, great for a holiday (especially in France as some of it takes place there!). I also liked Frances’ narration as at times it came across as very honest and real.
I also really enjoyed Rooney’s descriptive elements- her prose had a certain sensuality to it, and the love scenes between Nick and Frances powerfully described Frances’ inner thoughts about her relationship.
Overall I wasn’t a fan of this book, and I don’t really understand the hype surrounding it. For me, likeable or interesting characters are important, and I didn’t find that in this book. However, I’m glad I read it as there were some elements that I enjoyed, and it’s always interesting to see what everyone’s talking about!
Have you read * ‘Conversations with Friends’ ? Would you consider giving this book a try? Would you recommend any of Rooney’s other books?
Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
Happy reading (and stay safe) x
Picture credits here