Book Review: Conversations With Friends

This review contains no spoilers.

The cover of Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. On a yellow background two illustrated women have their faces partially obscured by splashes of colour, one green, one blue.

Frances performs poetry with her ex-girlfriend, now best friend, Bobbi. When they meet Melissa and Nick, a glamorous and successful older couple, the emotionally distant Frances is surprised by her own reaction. Intrigued by, and then drawn to, Nick, Frances has to actually face her feelings and insecurities head-on.

I raced through this book, reading it compulsively but with a strange underlying feeling of dissatisfaction. The writing is deft, skipping lightly over the action and creating a sense of distance that I by turns found fascinating and frustrating. I don’t think it’s unintentional, I suspect keeping the action at arms length is at least in part designed to get us more into the head of the main character, who seems to hold the world around her at a safe distance. With that in mind it’s a little hard to criticise the narrative style. I think it’s well done, I’m just not sure I enjoyed it.

The dispassionate style of narration does serve to make moments of drama or emotional intimacy all the more startling – they seem to come out of nowhere and vanish almost before you’ve fully got your head around them. Rooney is skilled at keeping the pace up, moving effortlessly from scene to scene, while continuing to demonstrate the influence of previous events. In this way, despite important moments passing in the blink of an eye, nothing feels like it is without consequence.

The characters were interesting, if a little hard to grasp. They were certainly layered, and if I left the story feeling that I didn’t know them particularly well I think that could (again) be a reflection of Frances’ feelings as much as anything else. Because the story is written in the first person, we only understand the people around her as well as she does.

Conversations with Friends was definitely funny, funny in the effortless way of being with your own friends, and aside from my reservations about the distant style I thought the writing was excellent. Rooney is excellent at picking out the most effective details to describe in order to bring a scene to life, and the dialogue felt realistic and immediate in a way that I found very appealing.

It does seem a little lacking in an overarching structure. Events happen, consequences and character growth result, but I didn’t feel like there was a sense of rising tension, followed by climax, leading to resolution. I’m personally okay with that, I enjoyed the journey more than enough without needing it to be going somewhere narratively satisfying, but if you like your stories to have a strong plot you might find this frustrating.

This is a great book if you’re interested in drama, romance or comedy – it has a healthy amount of each of these mixed up to create something quite unique. If you enjoy A.M. Homes or David Nicholls I think you’d enjoy this. Some strong language and mature themes, which might make it unsuitable for younger readers.

3 Replies to “Book Review: Conversations With Friends”

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