• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Rooney plunges the reader into uncomfortably claustrophobic and microscopically examined moments in Conversations with Friends

I listened to the audiobook of Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, read by Aoife McMahon (she also reads the audiobook versions of Rooney's books Normal People and Beautiful World, Where Are You).

Frances is a college student studying and writing poetry and regularly performing spoken-word pieces with her longtime friend and former flame Bobbi. Frances and Bobbi fall in socially with a somewhat famous photographer Melissa (Bobbi has a crush on her) and her actor husband Nick, and fascinations, jealousies, hypersensitive reactions, and loaded conversations ensue.

Frances spends most of her page time in self-obsessed analysis and introspection or making sweeping, oversimplified declarations about life and society, like the exploring college student she is. She pursues a reckless dalliance with the handsome (this characteristic of his is repeatedly emphasized), married Nick, who repeatedly demonstrates his low self-esteem.

Most of Rooney's characters achieve little, but spin their wheels, spouting criticism at dinner parties, staying in lavish homes owned by detestable people, and adolescently and emotionally reacting to others.

Frances's behavior around Nick frequently felt juvenile--she employed junior-high hard-to-get, passive-aggressive challenges as well as attempted-mysteriousness strategies. I wasn't clear on why thirtysomething Nick would be captivated by Frances's seemingly exhausting approaches, but Rooney presented him as so. While Frances detests her willingness to settle for having only part of him--he still loves his wife Melissa--she indicates that she's ready to go back to him in the end.

Rooney's exacting descriptions of characters' speech, emotions, and actions pushed into tedium and uncomfortably entrenched me in Frances's endless mental spin. The detail with which Frances picks apart and analyzes each nuance, each look, and each word of every encounter--and the energy with which she reflects on each of these elements after the fact--was often excruciating to read.

Rooney's microscopic attention to detail isn't always pleasant to dive into, but it is uniquely her own.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Rooney is also the author of Normal People and the more recent book Beautiful World, Where Are You.