I first became aware of Sally Rooney’s work back in 2020 but until now, I hadn’t actually read anything by her (or even watched any adaptions). After some contemplation — and seeing various opinions on social media — I settled on starting with Conversations with Friends and I’m so happy that I did. While I can’t say if it’s her best work, I certainly had the best time with it and it feels like a wonderful way to start delving into her books.
For those unaware, Conversations with Friends follows Frances, a student and aspiring writer who performs spoken word poetry with her best friend Bobbi who also happens to be her ex-girlfriend. The two of them meet and become friends with a journalist Melissa but as events unfold, Frances becomes much closer with Melissa’s husband Nick (an actor) and it all leads to Frances having to face who she is, her actions (and reactions), and what she wants.
Starting off, things were a little slow going but I immediately felt intrigued by both the characters and their dynamics. The book focuses more on them than it does on any plot although there is still a bit of a story there. There isn’t a character (or even a relationship) that isn’t flawed and those flaws are a very big part of the book, helping to drive the story forward by fueling the characters’ actions and putting them into different situations. There’s a chance that these characters will frustrate you at times, that certain scenes will feel like they could have been easily avoided if those characters hadn’t said or done something, but it’s still so easy to be drawn in by them and actually care where their journeys will go next.
Now, Conversations with Friends is told purely from Frances’ point of view meaning that what we know about other characters is limited to what she knows and her personal opinions of them. In some ways, this can feel like a little bit of a downside. There’s so much potential there to dive in deeper with all of the characters but I will say that there is something interesting about having to rely on Frances’ opinions and observations while wondering whether or not we can truly rely on her.
She’s young (only 21) and with that, there is some naivety and it is very clear she is still trying to figure herself out. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any agency or control throughout the book because she does. It’s just she’s quite frankly a bit of a mess. Sometimes she overreacts to a situation and other times she underreacts. There are even lots of moments in which she’ll think back over her actions after the fact and form a more solid opinion on what she thinks or feels about the situation which is often a little too late (although not always). While Frances comes across as strong and independent and sure of herself in a lot of ways, there’s still obviously room there for growth and she continues to make mistakes.
Throughout Conversations with Friends there are an array of relationships. Whether they be romantic or sexual, platonic or familial. There are some raw, serious times that occasionally feel a little awkward but are a lot of the time necessary even if they do get out of hand. There are also softer moments that leave you feeling content as you read. Not only are these interactions varied in their subject matter and intensity but so are the characters. While we might not know the other as clearly as we get to know Frances, there’s still depth there. While there is some glam and a slight over-the-top feel to certain parts of the book, it mostly feels very real. These characters are quite believable, flawed, and human.
All in all, this book felt like a nice dive into the lives of a random group of people. It’s possible to relate to them completely depending on who you are but there are, at the very least, moments, traits, or interactions which I would say most, if not all, people can relate to. It’s fun to delve into these people’s lives and while I do believe the story ended exactly where it needed to, I would not have complained if I got to spend more time with them.
Conversations with Friends is oddly simple yet a wonderful read and I’m pleased it was my first Sally Rooney book.
Rating: ★★★★½ /5