Review: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
A sharply intelligent novel about two college students and the strange, unexpected connection they forge with a married couple.
Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind--and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa's orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman's sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil--and Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh. But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect.As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi. Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances's intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.
Written with gem-like precision and probing intelligence, Conversations With Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth."
This was a strange read for me. I hated pretty much everything about the story, but yet I couldn't put it down. In fact while reading I kept thinking I wonder what else this author has written? Maybe I should look her up. But then I got to the end and that really ruined it for me. Then I was like okay, I hated everything about this book and now I am done with it. If not for that ending I might have read more. Some spoilers ahead, but really not much happens in the book so if you know anything more than the blurb you probably know the whole story.
Conversations With Friends is the story of a self-obsessed, super annoying, pseudo-intellectual twenty-one-year-old and how she has an affair with a married guy. The book started out and I thought I don't know if I will be able to read this. The first chapter and some were just super short sentences. It was driving me crazy. And it was just like a list of things that happened. She opened the door. She welcomed us to her home. The dog was barking. The husband was cutting vegetables. It was like how I feel if I wrote a book what it would be like. I write about our travels sometimes and it is just and then we did this. Then we went here. We ate this. It is not good. Like the author had an outline with descriptions of places and just turned that outline into short sentences. My brain couldn't deal. It was like I was hyperventilating with all the stops and starts. I even read a bit to my husband and he immediately was like oh my goodness! I cannot deal with this! Why aren't these things combined into one sentence? And why is it just like a list of things that happened? So yeah. The writing did get a bit better, stopped being just short sentences, but it was still like a list most of the time. Still telling not showing. But somehow it drew me in at the same time. I hated it, but I wanted to keep reading because of the writing. Which makes no sense...I still don't understand it.
The characters were also super annoying. I kept thinking I am so glad I am not in my early twenties anymore. That I don't hang out with people that age like this because they are annoying. You couldn't pay me enough to go back and spend all my time with these characters. People who don't know who they are and are always trying to think up what to say to make themselves look more interesting and fun and ugh it is a slog to read. Partly because it does feel real. It does feel like a lot of people that age and how they are. When Frances, the one who is telling us this story, first meets Melissa and Nick, the married couple, she is heading to their house and on the way there was "preparing compliments and certain facial expressions to make myself seem charming." And that is this whole book. These fake conversations with these characters saying things they think will make them look a certain way. Like Frances came up with some things to say about Melissa's house before she had even seen it so she could hopefully seem charming. The interactions with everyone were just...I would never hang out with any of them. They are all pretty terrible, Bobbi, Frances' best friend and ex-girlfriend, and Frances in particular. They both were horrible to people, treated everyone so poorly, even each other. There was a lot of them saying things to brag about something and one-up each other. And Frances eventually starts a relationship with Nick and she treats him terribly. She cannot handle the fact that he is married, even though she knows that going in. She finds out he still loves his wife and lashes out. He doesn't do exactly what she wants and she lashes out and hurts him. It is not good. Really I don't even know why any of them talk to each other. Though for Melissa and Nick I feel like it could just be Frances coloring the situation in such a way that they seem not great, but they could be fine. I would be curious to know the story from Nick's perspective or even Melissa's.
Now Bobbi and Frances were horrible to everyone and often had these pseudo-intellectual conversations that are supposed to be so deep and ugh. It is all that nonsense that the kids talk about when they are still trying to figure everything out. Still trying to figure out who they are and how the world works. At the beginning of the story Frances has these inane thoughts about how she never wants to be paid for doing anything. She saw no reason for money. She looked up what the average yearly income would be if the gross world product was divided evenly ($16,100) and sees no reason to make more than that. Which makes sense. I mean Bobbi rented out her spare room at some point and had to pay $650/month for rent. $16,100 would totally be sufficient to live...I don't know. It was a lot of talk about stupid stuff and I don't want to go back to that time. I might be too old for this story, but really even when I was younger I found all this annoying.
So yeah, nothing really happens in the story. It is just Bobbi and Frances being horrible, Frances sleeping with Nick, that is about it. It was odd as when Frances and Nick got together, and even once they had been together for a bit, Frances still talks about having sexy times with him and it seemed so awkward and bad. Like one of them just laying there like a corpse and Frances not really into it at all, and yet she kept doing it. I didn't understand why she kept wanting to do it even though she didn't seem to like it. Or how they had a connection at all because it wasn't there. Frances was just such an unlikeable character. She can't talk to anyone about things that happen, she lashes out to try and hurt everyone else all the time, and she never grows or changes as the story progresses. Oh, there is also her period issues which were...I was telling my friend about it and her first thought was that a man wrote this story. Or that the lady who did had never had a period. Because Frances kept getting her period without realizing it, getting this intense pain in her pelvis, going to the bathroom and looking down and noticing she is covered in blood. Oh, she got her period. Like how many times did she ruin her clothes, or furniture, or anything without realizing it? You don't just go from sitting here normal to being an extra in a Rob Zombie film and not notice it. Wouldn't you be more vigilant then after it happened once, especially twice, because you don't want to be walking home and look like a murder victim? Her whole medical issue towards the end of the story was...anticlimactic. I thought something was going to be really wrong with her, instead, it was endometriosis which majorly sucks, but she treats it like she can't tell anyone because then she will be the poor, sick invalid who can't do anything. It was disappointing and yeah. I have friends who have that and they still live their life.
So Nick and Frances eventually break up when Francis is going crazy because she found out she has endometriosis. So she tries to sleep with Nick and she is just crying so much the whole time and he feels weird about it even though he keeps asking if it is okay like normal and she keeps saying yes. So he stops and she is all he hates me! I am ugly! I am the worst!! and breaks it off with him. But then still wants him to call, but he doesn't as he is respecting her wishes, and she starts sleeping with Bobbi again. In a friends with benefits kind of way kind of. And then she gets an "accidental" phone call from Nick who thought he was calling his wife and they talk and he says how he has been trying really hard to not call her, but it is hard to not see her anymore. So then she decides that even though the situation is more complicated now, Bobbi is involved as well, and she couldn't handle Nick having feelings for someone else before that eh. It will be fine. Let's do this again end of book. Yeah, there is NO WAY Frances can handle a poly relationship like that. No way. She didn't grow or change or anything, she is still the self-centered mess she was at the beginning of the book. She will just keep lashing out at Nick and maybe Bobbi as well whenever she wants. It was not good.
So yeah. Even though this review is everything I hated about this book, I did enjoy it until the end. Because it is so real. It feels like you are reading real people. People who are annoying to me, but people I know nonetheless. Oh, one thing I did like was that there were non-heterosexual monogamous relationships in it. Frances is bi, Bobbi is gay, an open marriage, etc. That was a positive. But that end ruined all the good feelings I had towards the story. So in the end it didn't work for me.
Rating: ★ ★