In Conversations with Friends, Rooney introduces us to Frances, a stoic 21-year-old college student and poet in Dublin. Her only close friend is the ever-boisterous Bobbi; they used to date, but now don’t. Still, their lives are intertwined, particularly by the spoken word poetry that they perform together. It is through this poetry that they meet an older couple, Melissa and Nick, who begin to shift the balance of their friendship. As Bobbi is drawn in by Melissa, Frances gravitates towards Nick, who offers a sense of calm and fulfillment she craves. As the plot unfolds, the characters act in ways you might not expect.
When I first started this one, the dry writing style almost drove me away. Frances’s narration can oftentimes feel like listening to someone list out what they did that day. Much of her description is informative, not emotive, and I initially found it off-putting. But if you hang in there, you’ll find that Frances’s voice creates a distinct distance between what she experiences and feels, and her physical detachment takes center stage.
Life happens to and around Frances, and she shifts from one scene to the next. There are scenes where she watches her body move seemingly on its own. It’s the dark stuff of deep isolation, particularly as all of her relationships begin to break down and she engages in self-harm. She’s a difficult character to know and like, yet I still couldn’t help but want the best for Frances: I wanted her to figure out who she is.
The plot of Conversations with Friends concerns the undefined areas between friendship, lust, and romance. But, more than anything, the novel was about loneliness, seeing the world through the hazy lens of depression, and what it’s like to want, more than anything, to connect, to feel.
Book: Conversations with Friends
Author: Salley Rooney
Type: Melancholic literary fiction
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