A sharply intelligent novel about friendship, lust, jealousy, and the unexpected complications of adulthood in the 21st century.
Frances is a cool-headed and darkly observant young woman, vaguely pursuing a career in writing while studying in Dublin. Her best friend and comrade-in-arms is the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi. At a local poetry performance one night, Frances and Bobbi catch the eye of Melissa, a well-known photographer, and as the girls are then gradually drawn into Melissa's world, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman's sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband, Nick.
However amusing and ironic Frances and Nick’s flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy, and Frances’s friendship with Bobbi begins to fracture. 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, terribly, with Bobbi.
Desperate to reconcile her inner life 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 marked by a sly sense of humour, Conversations with Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth, and the messy edges of female friendship.
Reviewed by Olivia at Angus & Robertson:
Much has been made of debut author Sally Rooney’s breathtaking novel Conversations With Friends overseas, and I intend to keep talking about this book until the rest of Australia catches on. For now, its quiet brilliance makes Conversations With Friends something of a hidden gem, the kind of book you recommend in hushed tones to a close friend over coffee. I certainly haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
Its premise is simple: Frances and Bobbi, two young performance poets living in post-recession Dublin, are drawn into the intellectually glittering world of writer Melissa and her actor husband Nick. While Melissa and Bobbi become inseparable, Frances finds herself drawn to Nick, and soon they enfold themselves into a passionate love affair that throws everything in her life into blissful chaos. The title of this book suggests verbal eloquence and zinging dialogue, which Rooney certainly delivers, but Conversations With Friends is as much about what goes unspoken between friends and lovers as what is said aloud. The seriousness of Frances and Bobbi’s convictions are such that their talk often comes across as performative, a form of intellectual bravado effectively masking the vulnerabilities contained within. For vulnerable they both are, almost cripplingly so, but there is also something enchanting in how recklessly they brush through their lives, not so much unaware of their hypocrisies as completely indifferent to them.
With gorgeously clear prose, Sally Rooney has delivered a brilliant novel about the self-destructiveness that pervades the lives of creative and keenly intelligent young women, instantly making her one of my favourite living authors.