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Book Review: “Conversations with Friends” By Sally Rooney

by Rebecca Bienskie Jackson

It is easy to compare author Sally Rooney’s 2017 novel “Conversations with Friends” to Rooney’s very popular “Normal People.” A lot of her fanbase joined after reading the latter with high expectations (myself included). “Conversations with Friends” did not disappoint. It premiered with a series of the same name in May of 2022 on Hulu starring Alison Oliver and Joe Alwyn.

The main setting is Dublin, Ireland in the early 2010s. The story centers around Frances, a 21-year-old bisexual college student who has a close relationship with writing. She and her ex-girlfriend turned best friend Bobbi do slam poetry together on the weekends. Her world completely changes upon meeting famous photographer Melissa and her husband Nick. Frances is captivated by Nick and his life with Melissa and upon spending more time with them, she begins to form feelings toward Nick that she does not know what to do with.

Frances is a complex character that is written beautifully. As the book is written in first-person point of view, readers really get to see inside her head and understand the motivations behind her actions. She goes in-depth on her views and relationships with Bobbi and Nick. She is quite blunt and cynical as well and can be really hard on herself.

As a reader, you are rooting for her and only wish for the best but she tends to self-sabotage situations with school and her relationships. Her passion for writing stays but she faces writer’s block at many different points in the book as she goes through personal struggles.

She has problems with her father and her health. Her father had been distant since she was a child and pulled away from her several times. Throughout the novel, Frances tries to reconcile with her father and grapples with the fact that it is harder to connect with him than it seems.

About halfway through the novel, Frances suffers a reproductive health problem that hinders her life experiences as well. She has to deal with the physical pain and also the implications that this illness might have in the future. She fears she will be viewed as a “sick person” meaning she would be treated differently from her peers. As a result, she avoids telling people about her condition.

Despite this book being called “Conversations with Friends” there are many themes of love. Can one person love more than one person at a time? Frances struggles with her love for Bobbi and Nick at the same time. All three of them handle love differently and go about it in their own way. Bobbi doesn’t believe in relationships and yet finds herself still drawn to Frances. Frances, being in the middle, seems to be hyper-aware of both of them at the same time. She never fully pulls away from Bobbi even when she is invested in her relationship with Nick (while he is simultaneously married to Melissa.)

While this book has many themes and discussions of love I wouldn’t describe it as a romance. Her relationship with Nick is not only questionable but messy. Other than it being an affair, Nick is much older and Frances loses sight of herself trying to make the relationship work.

The main aspect of this book that bothered me was the ending. Frances chooses something that goes against her character development. Yet again. Rooney is known for unresolved endings because that’s exactly how life is.

I previously wrote a review of Rooney’s “Normal People” for The Montclarion. What I stated still stands for the fantastic aspects of this book. The writing style is refreshing, the character work is great and very genuine as well. The plot had good pacing and kept me engaged during this story.

Like Rooney’s other works, there are no quotation marks included in the dialogue of this book. Some readers feel as though this makes it more challenging to read but I disagree. I feel it is quite easy to catch on to and follow.

I’d recommend this book to college students as well as people who feel lost. This book has a lot of really fun moments and memorable conversations between characters. But it can also get very serious and it deals a lot with Frances’s personal struggles. She is a character who is lost and needs to find her own way in time, a feeling that a lot of college students can relate to.

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