After reading Normal People back in 2020, I was eager to read Sally Rooney’s previous novel, Conversations with Friends. However, the book soon got buried under all the dozens of other books I meant to eventually read, which made it difficult to get around to it. With the news of the rapidly approaching television adaptation, I knew I had to just sit down and read it. I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed this book, which made it easy to go through it quickly.
I really shouldn’t have been surprised at how great it was, as Normal People is one of my favorite books. I never thought that Sally Rooney’s other writing would live up to the story of Connell and Marianne, but I was definitely wrong.
Normal People came out as a book in 2018 and was then adapted to a television show in 2020. The show was critically acclaimed and even rated as BBC Three’s most-watched show ever. Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones starred as the lead actors for the show, which ended up launching their careers ever. After the success of this first adaptation, BBC Three and Hulu were eager to do a similar thing with Rooney’s earlier novel.
Conversations with Friends will be a 12 episode show that comes out in May of this year. A brief teaser trailer was just released a few weeks ago. Most of the creative team from Normal People have worked on this next show, which will hopefully give it that same tragic beauty we all know and love from Rooney’s work. Alison Oliver is playing the main character, Frances. Frances is a unique character, as she acts as an observer who tends to struggle with communicating the strong emotions she feels. Sasha Lane is playing Bobbi, who is Frances’ best friend and previous lover. Bobbi is confident and headstrong, which makes it difficult for Frances to get along with her at times.
The other two main characters in the book are the Conway couple. Nick Conway is played by Joe Alwyn. Nick’s wife, Melissa, is played by Jemima Kirke. The couple is older than Bobbi and Frances, which makes their relationships complicated due to them all being at different places in life. Frequently, many readers claim that Conversations with Friends is difficult to love due to the characters being unlikeable. Although I agree that each of the main four players can be difficult to connect with at times, this is also one of my favorite parts of Rooney’s writing style.
Sally Rooney’s writing style
When first reading a Sally Rooney novel, it may seem hard to get past the fact that she doesn’t use quotation marks, but it is easy to quickly get over this. Rooney’s writing manages to be both flat and extremely emotional at the same time. Her writing may appear to be rather deadpan on the surface, but this is acting as a shield for the brutal feelings underneath. Frequently, Rooney’s characters struggle to portray their emotions and suffer from the thought that no one wants to hear what they have to say or think. Frances in Conversations with Friends is like this, as she repeatedly claims that she doesn’t think she has a personality and is just an unemotional person.
Using rather simple language shows you how the characters are truly thinking. The reaction of Frances to a situation makes a reader uncomfortable, as she does not react to things like we would expect her to. Frances also frequently says things that don’t match what her physical world is saying. Sometimes, her body will be described as shaking while she says she is excited, which tells us something about her even though she denies it.
When I was reading Conversations with Friends, I found it difficult to like Melissa’s character, as she seemed rude at times. This makes a lot of sense, though, when you think about it, as Frances is the voice of the story. Frances has issues with Melissa because of her relationship with her husband, so obviously she wouldn’t try to portray Melissa in a positive light. Even though we may be annoyed by some of the characters there are always attempts to show their true character.
Rooney also makes sure to include personal elements about herself in all her writing. Frances is a writer just like Rooney, which could show how she sees bits of herself in her. Even in Normal People, Connell goes to school for English. Connell is also the character who most closely matches Frances, as they both deeply struggle with controlling and properly projecting their emotions.
Sally Rooney describes herself as a Marxist, which is also seen frequently in her works. Bobbi and Frances are closely aligned with Communist theories. This incorporation of her personal life into her writing makes it more real, which is what so many people love about her books in the first place.
If you haven’t read Conversations with Friends, then you still have plenty of time to check it out. I highly recommend that you add some of Rooney’s writing to your bookshelf!