Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Conversations with Friends - Sally Rooney

Image result for sally rooney conversations with friendsPublisher: Faber & Faber

Published: 2017

Number of Pages: 321


I put of reading Conversations with Friends,  because I felt it may hit too close to the bone while I was
studying in Dublin. And I’m glad that I left it because it definitely triggered me a tiny bit.

Firstly Sally Rooney’s writing is excellent. It’s sparse yet effective, even if her method of writing
dialogue takes getting used to. The characters themselves are wonderfully written. They are not
very likable, but they are very real. Frances, the protagonist, and Bobbi her ex-girlfriend/best friend
and probably the most so, but so are most of the cast. I personally don’t much care if the characters
are likeable or not, more importantly Frances, Bobbi and the rest of their cohort are realistic. They
make very poor yet realistic choices, they fuck eachother over and help eachother out, and effectively
illustrate the intricacies of modern relationships. I didn’t really care if they were unlikeable, they were
memorable and told a great story. Bobbi and Frances may also only be considered so unlikable
because they are women, I thought Nick was just as annoying but in a different way.

Personally, I found Rooney’s depiction of Dublin’s ‘Champagne Socialists’ extremely realistic. Both
Fances and Bobbi romanticise the idea of not working, and the idea of poverty itself. But when
Fances’ father stops sending her allowance, not only does she struggle to survive, but she’s ashamed
of having to work to support herself. She hides her newfound poverty from Bobbi, who has a wealthy
family supporting her, and her boyfriend Nick. When Nick, who has a fair bit of money himself, finds
out that Frances is struggling financially,he helps her out. But this only serves to create tension in their
relationship, as Frances hates that she depends on Nick, and becomes obsessed with paying back
everything she owes him. Bobbi also has an interesting and hypocritical relationship with the 1%.
She also ‘hates’ the rich, but is bankrolled by her rich father and fits in among the upper middle class
seamlessly due to her privileged upbringing. Unlike Frances, she may never actually have to work,
but only because she has her rich family propping her up. Establishment money also supports Melissa,
the ‘free spirit’ writer/photographer. She humours Valerie, her patron, despite Valerie’s bitchy
behaviour, and openly tells Frances she only puts up with her because she backs her financially.
Through Melissa’s relationship with Valerie, Rooney illustrates the unfortunate dependence of artists
on their benefactors, and how this relationship conflicts with their political principles.

I think Rooney does an excellent job addressing the disconnect between how the characters view
themselves and how they are seen by others. Bobbi and Frances both think that the other is more
interesting. Whenever Bobbi and Frances attend a social event together, Frances is very conscious of
the way Bobbi behaves, how she holds people’s attention and fits in easily. However, Bobbi tells
Frances that she is the more interesting one of them, and that their friends are more interested in
speaking with her and hearing what she has to say. Frances and Nick also misinterpret each other
frequently, both of them think they come on two strong and that the other is distant. Melissa believes
that Frances is disgusted by her middle class lifestyle, but Frances is really just jealous of her.

Conversations with Friends  is a quick and engaging read, if you’re not bothered by annoying
characters I would highly recommend it.

Four and a half stars.

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