“This read like a soap opera” said a goodreads review in my feed, and I promptly ordered this book from the library. Conversations with Friends is a book that I have complicated feelings about. I found it fascinating, heavy, seductive, and repulsive all in a matter of one chapter. It tells the story of the relationships between a married couple and two young women who are ex-lovers, best friends, and writing partners, living in Ireland.
This story is told from the perspective of Francis--a university student who has been called a prodigy of sorts. Her mind is dark and desperate and her heart often overwhelmed by melancholy. It doesn’t feel right to call her the protagonist of the story, although I am not sure who else it could be and it wasn’t until about the 75 page mark that I really felt invested in this story. It is always hard to bring together a cast of deeply unlikable characters and convince the reader to be invested in their stories, but I found that with time, Sally Rooney did this tremendously.
This is not a book for the faint of heart, or morally staunch individual, nor for someone who wants a neat and cheerful ending. But, if you can look past the somewhat drab and dismal tone of the book you will find beautiful turns of phrase, honest reflections of human nature, and a poetic narrative. The writing by Rooney is soft and smooth with a casual and conversational tone. Rooney doesn't use any quotation marks which took time to adjust to but in the end created a story that was seamless and personal in a way I have never before seen.
Many people have remarked that the title felt odd to them and I agreed at first. But to me the title became less about the conversations between characters in the book and more about the conversation between Francis and the reader. Repeatedly while reading I could imagine myself in a coffee shop in Ireland, sipping tea and listening intently, as Francis relayed to me all that had happened with her over the last year. If felt as though I sat down and said “so how did everything start with you and Melissa and Nick?” and she began to answer. Often at the end of the chapter or page I felt myself asking things like “when did you see them again?” or “Did he contact you after the party?” or “but what about bobbi?” or simply “and what happened after that?” And each time these questions came to my mind, I would turn the page, and it was as if Francis was responding to exactly what I had wanted to know.
I cannot honestly say that I loved this book, because it overwhelmed and devastated me many times, however, I truly did love the experience of reading this book. When I reached the last page I wished there was more, while simultaneously being glad for where it ended.
Mood: Laying on your couch on a rainy day, in your favorite and most threadbare sweater, and crying because you feel hopeless, while somehow not feeling sad at all. (yes, it’s that complicated)
For fans of: Drama and debating politics with your friends. Rooting for characters who are acting immorally. Melancholy.
TW: self-harm, intrusive thoughts, alcoholic parent.