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Conversations with Friends

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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."

304 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 25, 2017

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About the author

Sally Rooney

32 books42.9k followers
Sally Rooney was born in 1991 and lives in Dublin, where she graduated from Trinity College. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Dublin Review, The White Review, The Stinging Fly, and the Winter Pages anthology.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 39,073 reviews
Profile Image for emma.
1,825 reviews48.4k followers
December 14, 2022
I have a debilitating rereading problem.

It’s reached a concerning point -- seemingly 1 in 3 or 4 books I read is actually a reread. Previously I was way too picky about adding books to my to-read list to suffer a massive TBR issue, but now that I’m barely reading new books, the pile (which is a physical one in the corner of my room, stacked by color because a) rainbow shelves forever and b) I am out of shelf space) is looming. Concerningly.


If I die mysteriously, I was probably crushed by the blue stack. (I also seem to have a problem with buying blue books, specifically.)

Anyway. My sole limit has always been that I must wait at least one year after my initial read before reading it again. This is my last shred of rereading-related logic and sanity.

This book smashed that sh*t to pieces. Less than five months after I read it for the first time, I was rereading.

I could make excuses. “My flight was delayed and I only brought one book, ” I could say, and it would be true (and a fatal mistake and a shame upon my bookworm title). “I happened to have this one because the person I lent it to gave it back.” But it was a nighttime flight, and I finished my first book on board, and I had to go out of my way to turn on that reading light that is really more of a goddamn chandelier considering how well it illuminates everything in an eight-foot radius. (Sorry, everyone around me.)

Also, it was a short flight and I only got 50 or so pages into it. I easily could have put it down.

This is where it’s the book’s fault.

This story is not action-packed, nor particularly suspenseful. Neither is it jam full of what you’d call Exciting Events or even a traditional love story that gets you rooting for your couple in any familiar way.

In spite of all that, it is absolutely unputdownable.

Conversations with Friends, if you are one of the few who somehow haven’t read it yet, is about Frances and, less so, her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi. Frances is thoughtful and cool (in the less-used definition of the word, according to my lexicon), Bobbi is effervescent and charming. They encounter a married couple, Melissa and Nick, and much of the novel is devoted to the changing ways in which the four interact with each other.

The writing is beautiful. Sally Rooney’s style is clean and sharp and true. Each word is thoughtfully chosen. Each image feels real and complex. Her New Yorker profile (which I read in a fit of desperately needing to get my hands on everything Rooney has written, in the wake of my first encounter with this book) highlights a description of a party at Melissa’s home as “full of music and people wearing long necklaces.” Conversations is teeming with terse, evocative descriptions like that, and if you’re anything like me once you start reading writing like that you’ll never want to stop.

Being forced to stop by the dearth of Sally Rooney material has been very difficult for me.

Like the writing, the characterization is somehow spare and complete at once. Frances and Bobbi, Melissa and Nick, even the background actors and extras of their lives are stunningly real. I think about Frances and Nick especially all the time. I can identify statements in life as “very Bobbi” or “exactly Melissa” or “totally something Frances would say.”

Above all, this book crawled inside my head and stayed there. It ever-so-slightly changed the way my brain works, but mostly it made me feel noticed and heard. It seems a way of looking at the world I hadn’t realized I ascribed to is captured in these pages. It’s surprising and kind of spooky and I’m truly grateful I encountered this book at all.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be a review of mine if I didn’t confidently write about something I’m likely not qualified to. And I want to say f*ck everybody who acts like Sally Rooney is some kind of lesser writer because she’s young and a woman. There’s a difference between saying “this writer is not for me” and “I didn’t like this book, and therefore everyone who calls her brilliant or talented is actually wrong.”

You don’t spew that sh*t about the bajillion dead white male writers. Your internalized misogyny and ageism is showing.

Bottom line: Sally Rooney is brilliant and talented. The end. ❤️

reread 8 updates

my 8th time reading this book begins...now.

this time i'm doing it for a book club - follow along / join the fun on instagram or discord!!!

reread 7 updates

it's been almost a year since i last read this, which is unthinkable. time to fix that

quasi br with elle

reread 6 updates

have been truly dealt a series of death blows this week from the heartless chaos of the universe, so i will once again be rereading the book that simultaneously makes me feel better and so, so much worse

reread 5 updates

when you see me and lily rereading this every month in 2021, mind your business

reread 4 updates

reread this in its entirety on a plane to be on my main character sh*t

reread 3 updates

what has to be wrong with a person for Conversations with Friends to be a comfort reread for them? asking for myself

reread 2 updates

just as just as just as good

reread 1 updates

there's never a wrong time to read sally rooney.

even if that means a reread less than 5 months after the first time you read it.


upping this to 5 stars because i can't stop thinking about it, and also in all that thinking i can't remember a single flaw

currently-reading updates

i bought this book 2 days ago and have not really put it down since
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
July 11, 2022
There’s a cliche in reviewing where you say something along these lines: “I wouldn’t like these characters in real life, but I found them compelling.” See, I don’t think that’s why this book works. I think this book works because in real life we would probably like these characters; respect their talent, find them interesting if at times flawed or condescending, look up to them on a level at which we would at times resent them and at times want to be them. It’s just that none of us would ever know these characters, because these characters do not want to be known.
“You underestimate your own power so you don't have to blame yourself for treating other people badly.”

Conversations with Friends is a book about four people: two ex-girlfriends and best friends, Frances and Bobbi, and a married couple, Nick and Melissa. Frances and Nick end up falling, over time, into a strange romance.

But… it’s not about the cheating. The book refuses to make it that simple. Bobbi and Melissa have their own strange connection, as do Frances and Bobbi, as do Nick and Melissa, of course; the six connections within this circle are all given both pagetime and weight within the narrative. On some level, we’re not rooting for any one of these characters over the others; we see the complex levels on which any ending for these four would be painful. At times, I disliked all four of these characters; at times, I loved all four. But at all times, they felt real.

There’s this quote from a New York Times oped that I think about a lot:
Frances’ central conflict, as we learn over the course of this book, is that she is unable to allow others to see her vulnerability, to see that she cares for them or is hurt by them or even that she simply enjoys their company. She wishes to be cool and distant and yet still utterly lovable.
“The acclaim also felt like part of the performance itself, the best part, and the most pure expression of what I was trying to do, which was to make myself into this kind of person: someone worthy of praise, worthy of love.”

The problem is that we need to allow ourselves to be known to be truly loved.

It is this refusal to submit to intimacy that becomes the primary conflict of the book; in her relationship with Bobbi, with Nick, and even with Melissa, she constantly attempts (with increasing desperation) to refuse any breaking of her walls. It is only as the book continues that she begins to understand others do love her, and want to know her.


“I had the sense that something in my life had ended, my image of myself as a whole or normal person maybe.”

This is a book made up of tiny moments of humanity, of vulnerability and tenderness. We see these characters hold up their walls at almost every moment to the point that any moment of tenderness or kindness between them feels like a revelation. I cried several times, barely knowing why; I just knew I hurt for these characters. This one will stay with me for a long, long time.

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Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews321 followers
August 11, 2017
I didn't really respond well to Conversations with Friends. The writing itself is quite good in terms of realistic dialogue and description, but I found all of the characters entirely unlikable and hard to empathize with, very few with any positive animating traits, mostly just self-absorbed, narcissistic, occasionally cruel and capricious. Either in addition to or because I didn't respond to the characters, I also didn't respond to the plot well: the stakes seemed very low, there seemed to be little personal growth from any of the characters (despite this being a story entirely focused on people rather than situations), and when more or less the entire main cast is unlikable, it can be hard to invest in an outcome. Because the craft itself was strong, I'd give this 2 stars and say "it's ok" overall, but I wouldn't recommend it personally.

The central conceit is two twenty-something friends and former lovers, Frances and Bobbi, get pulled into the orbit of photographer Melissa and her actor husband Nick. Then France and Nick become drawn to one another, and begin an affair that leads to uncomfortable situations and confrontations with Bobbi, Melissa, and their friends and family members. It's set in Dublin, Ireland, but the way it's written and the poetry-art-acting cultural trifecta it hits, it may as well be set in California. It didn't feel particularly Irish at all, so I was a bit lost on sense of place and specificity.

We see things from Frances' perspective, which might be part of the difficulty with this read for me. Frances is entirely selfish: she begins the book that way, and aside from maybe inches of character growth, she also ends the book that way. We're told how intelligent she is, but she seems to be perpetually blushing, blundering into things, acting cruelly and capriciously when it suits her, and retreating to dark corners to cut herself when she's incapable of expressing her true feelings. It didn't help that Frances is also living off an allowance through her father, not feeling pressed at all to support herself for much of the novel, content to wallow in her feelings for Nick and assert dominance and indifference to him to disguise her growing dependence and obsession with him. (They say it's love, but honestly these characters are all so selfish it's easy to think that they say it's love but it's not.) Nick meanwhile is a somewhat caddish, sad, broken and oppressed man, mildly unhappy with his life but without real power or impetus to change it. Not all characters need to be likable in order to enjoy a novel about them - I can think of plenty of anti-heroes and somewhat nasty characters that are delightful to read - but I struggled greatly trying to empathize with these characters, finding very little compelling about their personalities and their decisions, but also not being poorly behaved enough to be completely disgusted with them. That made it very difficult for me to engage and be entertained or informed while reading. Bobbi is a decent side character and has a greater, more complex personality, while Melissa never comes across as more than a controlling, dominating woman (possibly because we're in Frances' perspective, and Bobbi is her former lover and best friend, while Melissa is her rival for Nick's physical and emotional affection and attention).

When the focal point is an illicit, uncertain relationship and the rest centers on other relationships spiraling and changing in reaction, you don't want the writing to put distance between you and the characters. As good as Rooney's craft is, I did feel as though I was peering into their lives and their messy actions but at arms length, and again hard to say if the writing was responsible or my disinterest in the characters. I would want to feel immersed in the action, pulled in and maybe disgusted or titillated or both, but fundamentally unable to look away (very much how I felt reading White Fur). With Conversations with Friends, I was just bored, feeling the distance and not caring that neither myself nor the author was taking pains to close the gap. And the scenes of sex and intimacy did not feel charged or challenged; they seemed pathetic and pitiable, but in the most banal way, so I had little sympathy for Frances or Nick as they embarked on their affair.

There's not much more to it: again, it's a novel of relationships, and there aren't huge plot elements or set pieces or massive emotional bombs. It quietly crawls along, never fully climaxes, and resulted in a sort of ambivalent ending that made a lot of sense to me based on the selfishness of these characters. I do believe Sally Rooney has writing talent, and there are some good paragraphs and dialogue in terms of craft. But I could not connect with this book at all, and was too bored by the characters and wearied by the proceedings to hate them. Again, the writing was good enough that I think it warrants two stars, and perhaps other people will find more that speaks to them from this book. But it was absolutely not for me.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,168 reviews1,642 followers
August 23, 2017
I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately: the way our perspective changes and how our need for stability, trust and healthy relationships become so much more valued than intoxicating, crash-and-burn emotional roller-coasters of our younger years.

I say this as means of introduction because while reading Conversations with Friends, it occurred to me that those readers who are not familiar with the confusing yet exhilarating times of poor choices mixed with a great deal of egotism and sense of invulnerability may not like or relate to these characters. It’s easy to miss the precision dance that Sally Rooney is performing here.

But then is this book about the poor choices of youth or about one particularly fractured character who is destined to keep making those choices into adulthood? The book centers on two girls in their early 20s – our narrator Frances and Bobbi, her best friend and one-time lover. Together, they make the acquaintance of a couple a decade older: the composed and successful Melissa and her handsome husband Nick, an emotionally fragile actor whose career seems to be stalled despite an abundance of talent. Inevitably, Frances and Nick hook up, wrecking more damage on their own world and on the worlds of everyone around them.

The “conversations” alluded to in the title are eloquently expressed but never get to the heart of things. Frances, who is unable to admit her love for Nick—even to herself—says, “We can sleep together if you want, but you should know I’m only doing it ironically.” Or later: “I just don’t have feelings concerning whether you fxxk your wife or not. It’s not an emotive topic for me.” Of course it is, and the constant self-harm Frances imposes on herself—picking furiously at her nails, biting her inner cheek, cutting herself—reveals the extent that her repression is harming her.

As Frances whirls in place, the product of an alcoholic father, an enabler mother, and her own making, the core of Frances reveals itself: she feels like a damaged person who deserves nothing, believing that those she loves are exalted and somehow special. “Suffering wouldn’t make me special, and pretending not to suffer wouldn’t make me special,” she reflects at one point. To reveal oneself is dangerous in a world that often conspires against you. This is one of the most interesting psychological profiles I’ve read in a long time with an ending that made me gasp.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,338 followers
June 10, 2017
A very tepid 3 stars. Conversations with Friends is another one of those books about not particularly nice people entangled in awkward relationships. I've certainly read many books of this nature that I've found clever and quite enjoyed, but this one was just ok. Frances and Bobbi -- both young women who used to be in a relationship with each other -- become entangled with somewhat older heterosexual couple Nick and Melissa. It's all told from Frances' perspective. She doesn't seem to be able to figure out what she wants. Nor does anyone else. It gets messy and it stays pretty messy. I was attracted to this one partially because it is set in Dublin, but it could have been anywhere in North America or Europe. I'm at a low three stars because I did enjoy the the first half of Conversations with Friends, but my enjoyment started to wane in the second half. Frances' inner gaze and self-centredness started to feel suffocating. I don't have much more to say. Time to move on to something that makes me less grumpy. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
559 reviews7,426 followers
March 26, 2018
The narrator of Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends at one point states that she never wants to work.

I had no plans as to my future financial sustainability: I never wanted to earn money for doing anything. [...] I'd felt that my disinterest in wealth was ideologically healthy. I'd checked what the average yearly income would be if the gross world product were evenly divided among everyone, and according to Wikipedia it would be $16, 100. I saw no reason, political or financial, ever to make more money than that.

You have to put up with this girl for 321 pages. Have fun!
Profile Image for Haley pham.
63 reviews78.4k followers
May 24, 2022
4.5 stars!!! My first Sally Rooney book and I really enjoyed seeing the strange inner dialogue of Frances.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,460 reviews8,564 followers
April 11, 2020
My controversial take on this book is that it could also be titled Self-absorbed White People have Feelings Too. Before I get into that take, I do think Sally Rooney accomplishes quite a lot with her debut novel Conversations with Friends. The book follows Frances and her best friend Bobbi, who become entangled with a married couple, Nick and Melissa. Frances and Nick begin an affair which gets intense, and much of these characters’ relationships with one another thicken when Bobbi and Melissa find out.

Though this set up may sound like a recipe for a pretty shallow book, Rooney’s writing makes the story incredibly interesting. Her dialogue is sharp and compelling even though her characters’ lives are kinda shallow, she describes her characters’ interior lives really well, and because of these qualities I literally stayed up until 1am to finish this novel last night. Rooney also creates a complex and intriguing non-monogamous relationship set up between her four main characters which speaks to the potential of love outside of traditional heterosexual monogamy. Finally, I loved, loved, loved Bobbi as a character, perhaps in large part because she reminded me a lot of me with her self-assuredness and social justice barbs. Kudos to Rooney for creating such a cool, iconic best friend for Frances.

The characters’ lack of growth limits my praise for this novel. Rooney does a great job of making pretty narcissistic characters interesting. Even beyond making them interesting, she humanizes them, especially our main character Frances. There are some moments of emotional depth and insight in Conversations with Friends, and when they hit, they’re pretty rad. Yet, I wanted so much more from Frances and from how Rooney constructed Frances’s relationship with Nick. Frances is self-effacing, rather self-centered, and cruel to people she is close to. Her relationship with Nick only heightens these attributes. Toward the end of the book, there’s some acknowledgement that Frances is this way and a few pages of some growth (e.g., apologizing to people she’s hurt), yet I wanted more from her. To be honest, I’m not sure how fair it is that I wanted more from her – like maybe it’s “okay” that she’s kind of a jerk because perhaps that’s how some people are, jerks who at some point become a little less like jerks yet still are emotionally messy. For me, though, the sophistication of the writing and the overall style of characterization obscured what could have been deeper moments of growth for Frances, as well as for Nick.

Overall, a super intriguing novel. Even though I didn’t love it I respect its quality enough to the point where I am still considering reading Rooney’s second book, Normal People. In the hands of any other author, I probably would’ve despised this book and felt that it was 300 pages of people with awful interpersonal skills who lack self-awareness. And while I do feel that this book is 300 pages of people with awful interpersonal skills who lack self-awareness, Rooney’s talent makes the story and characters shine in their own self-absorbed way.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews878 followers
May 2, 2022
This was stupidly good. After recently loving Rooney's sophomore novel Normal People my expectations for Conversations With Friends were high, though I was also a bit wary; in these situations I'm always afraid an author's debut isn't going to live up. I needn't have worried. This was perfect from start to finish. You know that feeling when you miss a stair and your stomach lurches briefly before you land - this was that sensation in book form.

Once again I was impressed with Rooney's writing; it's simple and seemingly effortless, but the kind of natural and conversational cadence she achieves is no easy feat. The simultaneous intelligence and lack of life experience of the narrator, Frances, were captured so convincingly; from the start this was a person that I wanted to understand, whose head I wanted to inhabit briefly. Sally Rooney writes about interpersonal dynamics with such skill and ease and sharp observation, and that was the shining point of this novel, but whenever Frances looked inward, those moments were also captured with the same unnerving clarity. I related to Frances and I didn't; I saw bits of myself in her and I found bits of her unreachable. But Rooney made me care, she earned my investment as I watched with sympathy and frustration and anxiety as Frances attempted to navigate an awkward, ill-thought-out affair with an older married man, a dynamic which only complicated her limited understanding of love, class, status, artistic freedom, and belonging.

If you can't handle books about unlikable, selfish people, you aren't going to enjoy this, and in that sense alone I don't necessarily believe this book transcends its premise. It's about unlikable, selfish people, many of whom are blind to their privilege. It's not about the kind of people you want to be, or want to be friends with. But if you're willing to sacrifice likability for realism, and an unpredictable plot for moments of startling self-reflection, this is the book for you. I actually ended up preferring this to Normal People, but both are a solid 5 stars and I am simply delighted that Sally Rooney's books have entered my life.
Profile Image for Jenn.
22 reviews1 follower
September 10, 2018
I'd rather have a conversation with the wall
Profile Image for Emily B.
426 reviews421 followers
February 1, 2021
I simultaneously loved it and hated it. That’s all I have to say
Profile Image for Bel Rodrigues.
Author 2 books19.3k followers
June 1, 2021
2,5 ⭐

ok, vamos lá.

o livro é literalmente sobre conversas entre amigos, por isso meu problema começa quando essas conversas sempre parecem extremamente forçadas, oriundas de uma banalidade e que acabam se tornando academicistas quase que o tempo todo. não consigo pensar em uma melhor amiga que vai ficar te dando aula sobre o capitalismo mesmo sabendo que você é declaradamente comunista há anos, por exemplo. é nítido que a autora sabe do que fala quando cita sistemas socioeconômicos e a disparidade de classes, mas ela evidencia tais assuntos onde eles simplesmente não cabem, ou seja, um simples rolê com seus amigos soa sempre como um convite à palestras maçantes sobre os problemas do capital (e suas consequências no mundo).

isso poderia ter menos peso na minha conclusão caso o enredo me deixasse empolgada, mas também não aconteceu. o nick é um cara problemático que não sabe se relacionar com mulheres da sua idade e supre essa negação dizendo a si mesmo que é um grande aliado das causas realmente importantes para as mulheres. a autora é sutil e coloca em doses homeopáticas o fato dele procurar relacionamento com mulheres bem mais novas e acredito, nesse ponto, que tenha justamente um teor crítico (embora o final tenha me deixado quase crendo que ela só quis passar pano mesmo). não vou nem me aprofundar no fato das críticas ao capitalismo estarem presentes durante TODO TEMPO da história e em determinado momento a frances simplesmente decidir é tudo tão circunstancial e conveniente que cheguei a achar que essa parte era sarcasmo (não era).

enfim, concluí que se tivesse lido há uns 7 anos, teria gostado. a escrita da sally é excelente, assim como em "pessoas normais" — que é bem superior a esse —, na minha opinião.
September 15, 2017
**2 STARS**

*shoulder shrug* Unfiltered review https://wp.me/p7ZSCH-3dC

Reading the synopsis of the book had me excited. I just knew I was going to love this book. It sounded like I was going to get a little bit of YA and NA combined into one brilliant masterpiece. Sadly, for me, that did not happen.

I want to start with the first and deepest reason why I never connected with this book. It’s a big one, lovers.

There are no quotation marks. It was extremely annoying reading a book when I couldn’t tell if a character is actually talking to someone or if there’s some inner dialogue going one. Half the time I didn’t know who was talking. Let me give you a quick example and you can decide for yourself.
Bobbi, I said. Does my face look shiny?

Bobbi glanced back and scrunched up her eyes to inspect me.

Yeah, a little bit, she said.

I let the air out of my lungs quietly. There wasn’t anything I could do now anyway since I was on the stairs already. I wished I hadn’t asked.

Not in a bad way, she said. You look cute, why?

It was the most distracting thing to deal with in the entire book. I can respect an author’s desire to be different or to try something new but this, no quotation thing was way too much for me. As an avid reader, I severely dislike loads of grammatical errors. A few here and there are not a problem but too many bothers the shit out of me. If I were the editor for this book I would have advised the author on the 100 different ways why, whatever that thing was, was a silly, silly, silly idea.

I know that I often have many grammatical errors in my blog post, but I’m not a professional writer and my husband is my “editor”, so I don’t really care. If I were to write an actual book, trust me when I say that I would pay a great deal of money for a professional editor with a great reputation to edit the shit out of my book.

Not once did I feel connected with the characters. It was like sitting through a movie when the actors were complete shit. The main character, Frances's, lack of self esteem and self loathing was too much. Everything about her was flat. I couldn’t care less about her life if I tried. Everything about the way her character was written was very stoic and mater-of-fact.

Not once did I see an exclamation point. Every sentence ended in either with a period or question mark. There was no passion for the words. This went on for the entire book. I was so bored. Three hundred page of detached and impassive words.

All in all, this book wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t recommend it for any of my reading friends, ever.

I wish the author great success in the future.

Oh, shit, I forgot to let you know if I liked the story. No, I did not. It was odd and unbelievable – that could have been down to the writing as well. If I wasn’t asked to read and review this book from the publisher, I would not have finished it.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
855 reviews5,880 followers
February 5, 2023
Everyone’s always going through something, aren’t they?

I have a—possibly irrational—deep love for this book. Conversations With Friends, the debut novel from Irish author Sally Rooney, is a book that hit the ground running in the literary world with a heated publisher bidding war making news even before it’s release and its instantaneous critical and commercial success making it one of the most talked about books of the year. And deservingly so. Rooney, 26 at the time of publication, has an artistic wit that seemingly finds the pulse on young millennials in order for the novel to beat to the rhythm of said pulse and captures the frustrations and foibles of young adulthood. The two friends central to the novel, Frances and Bobbi, are still traversing the minefield of identity formation as 21 year old college students at Rooney’s own Alma Mater, Trinity College in Dublin. Despite outward appearances projecting certainty and confidence, inside they are weathering a maelstrom of sexuality and self-doubt, thrown a new twist as illicit emotions and affairs flare up after befriending married couple Melissa and Nick. Rooney spins a tangled web of interpersonal relationships between hyper-intellectuals full of shifting and contradictory desires. Rooney is an author where flaws and imperfections are central to what makes the work so beautiful and this is a book of people being people, feeling so raw and alive in Rooney’s hands you wonder if you cut the pages it might bleed. A fascinating deep dive into ideas of passion and power dynamics, the struggles of identity and mental health, young womanhood, sexuality, and all the chaos of young life under late capitalism, Conversations With Friends is a monumental work for which I have nothing but awe.

That sounds like a recipe for disastrous unhappiness, I said.
You’re twenty-one, said Melissa. You should be disastrously unhappy.

In keeping with the title, this is a book that is certain to spark conversations with friends and I appreciate how this book tends to generate strong opinions on everything from Rooney’s storytelling to debates over which characters are most problematic. It has garnered strong reactions in the public sphere. On one hand it has been heaped with praise by many critics and celebrities alike (such as Emily Ratajkowski posting her personal margin notes on twitter); on the other hand, Rooney has been decried as the harbinger of the death of the novel with Will Self calling her ‘simplistic’ with no literary ambition. The latter tends to be an expected response when a literary novel has the audacity to be popular and profitable. This is often most pronounced when the author is a woman, such as the vitriol aimed at Zadie Smith just a decade ago or the excessive criticism lobbied at Donna Tartt when The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize. I think part of the success of this book is its wide appeal, being nearly YA-adjacent in terms of accessibility and being centered on romantic affairs (without being a love story), though there is so much to say just beneath the surface and it is a book that is hard not talk about once you’ve read it. It also has a great story around it, with Rooney being contacted for a novel after the success of the short story Mr Salary (you can read it in full here) prompting a dramatic walk out of her restaurant job and finishing this in 3 months for a huge publisher bidding war to occur.

This could only interfere with my other ambitions, such as achieving enlightenment and being a fun girl.

There is a cliche that says debut novels are often based on an idealized expression of the author’s own biography, and while idealized seems to miss the mark here, something I enjoy about Rooney is how much she teases her own life into her fiction. This and Normal People are mostly set in the vicinity of Trinity College where the character’s attend as Rooney did (I spent a great deal of spring 2017 hanging out on this lovely campus, part of the reason why I wanted to read these books in the first place), and these college coming-of-age tales are set in a time period that coincide more or less with my own. Rooney excels at dialogue, this novel especially centered on ideas of communication as the title would suggest, and its part of what makes her stories feel so real. ‘Dialogue is the most fun to write,’ Rooney says interview with The Guardian, ‘it’s kind of like a tennis match. Do the first one and then ping, ping, it has to go back and forth.’ This is mentioned in the novel as well, with Frances finding the email exchanges with Nick to be thrilling ‘like a game of table tennis.’ It evokes a time right before the dominance of smartphones when so much communication occurred on a laptop over email, AIM or facebook messenger (back when only college students had access to facebook) and I too recall that being a primary medium of the awkward flirting between people who were most comfortable in written communication before finally having in-person communication. Rooney’s writing is rather blunt, avoidinging flowery or figurative language (as well as quotation marks, which I never notice until someone points it out as I earnestly view them as extraneous in adult literature when the writing carries enough context to know when a character is speaking) and many of the most powerful lines are delivered with a flat-affect that somehow makes them sting more while also capturing the cool-fronting personalities of the characters. These are intellectuals who assuiduisly present themselves as above it all. This is a book with lines like ‘no one who likes Yeats is capable of human intimacy,’ said unironically, which is—lets be real—exactly the type of shit you say in college when trying to be cool. These are character’s that say ‘ depression is a humane response to the conditions of late capitalism’ totally deadpan and make me go, okay yea, I know these people.

You live through certain things before you understand them.

Rooney writes with a rather uninflected prose that captures the flippancy of young millennials to their own emotional state, like when Frances tells Nick ‘I just don’t have feelings concerning whether you fuck your wife or not. It’s not an emotive topic for me.’ Not that this is an emotionless book, with examples like ‘I hated them both, with the intensity of passionate love,’ showing an Annie Ernaux-like level of feeling everything deeply. These character’s just don’t like to show it. Also, despite being a very interior-life narrative through having Frances as the narrator, most of Frances is revealed from externally and we read of Frances’ physical reaction to an event or statement before we later, if ever, learn her emotional response. ‘At any time I felt I could do or say anything at all, and only afterward think: oh, so that’s the kind of person I am,’ which is sort of how Frances navigates this entire book, interpreting herself through how the world reflects her back.

I was a very autonomous and independent person with an inner life that nobody else had ever touched or perceived.

Frances’ identity formation being dependent on how others perceive her is a major crux of the novel, and the word mirror is used four times in the first chapter alone to capture how much Frances only seems to exist as a reflection in others . Having a frustrated relationship with her parents (not unlike in Normal People) , Frances has never really found a strong sense of self. Enter Bobbi, her former girlfriend and now best-friend/poetry performer partner. Bobbi is Frances’ primary mirror to herself at the start: ‘When Bobbi talked about me it felt like seeing myself in a mirror for the first time. I also looked in actual mirrors more.’ Bobbi who could ‘be abrasive and unrestrained in a way that made people uncomfortable,’ is good at telling Frances what she wants and taking charge, and Frances likes to give off the air of being very intelligent. She mostly performs this by speaking as little as possible outside of curt one-liners. She is in fact intelligent, but she also seems to only exist as a state of performance—like her and Bobbi’s poetry performances that get the attention of Melissa—and judges herself based on how others judge her performance.
The acclaim also felt like part of the performance itself, the best part, and the most pure expression of what I was trying to do, which was to make myself into this kind of person: someone worthy of praise, worthy of love.

This is an idea Rooney has grappled with in her own life as well. In an article on why she quit the debate team despite having been the top debater at the European Universities Debating Championships in 2013, Rooney says ‘ I didn’t cope very well with all the affirmation,’ and that ‘Victory only gives you new ways of perceiving yourself. Success doesn’t come from within; it’s given to you by other people, and other people can take it away.’ When your self-worth is contingent on others, your sense of identity is at the mercy of the world.

I thought you liked my personality.
Do you have one?

This is not unlike Nick, an actor, who Frances ‘was aware of the fact that he could pretend to be anyone he wanted to be, and I wondered if he also lacked a “real personality” the same way I did.’ Much of the attraction comes from the way they need to feel wanted by the other in order to feel anything about themselves, which the absence of him leads to a feeling of losing herself as well, saying ‘I had the sense that something in my life had ended, my image of myself as a whole or normal person maybe.’ But his attention, especially because it is the attention of what she assumes is a well-together man married to someone she admires, makes her feel special. ‘ It seemed as though what he was really saying was: there's something beautiful about the way you think and feel, or the way you experience the world is beautiful in some way.’ This leads to some inner tragedies frequently:
I was like an empty cup, which Nick has emptied out, and now I had to look at what has spilled out of me: all my delusional beliefs about my own value and pretensions to being a kind of person I wasn’t. When I was full of these things I couldn’t see them. Now that I was nothing, only an empty glass, I could see everything about myself.

However, this is a flawed and dangerous compass for determining self-worth. Jean-Paul Sartre explores this sort of bad-faith identity in No Exit where Estelle realizes that what another person reflects back might not be the same ‘you’ in your own mind.

He was the first person I had met since Bobbi who made me enjoy conversation, in the same irrational and sensuous way I enjoyed coffee or loud music.

What Rooney does so effectively is have Frances sashay between loyalties to Nick and Bobbi based on her relationship with the other at any given moment due to her need to have her sense of self reflected back at her. Now I’m not usually a data-driven literary analysis person, but the website Plotting Plots is pretty cool to play with and does give insight into this aspect of the novel:
We can see Frances cycling between focusing her thoughts on the two, with Bobbi becoming a larger focus than Nick when having issues with him, and showing how much Frances groups the two characters together as essential parts of her life. ‘It was more that Nick’s sympathy seemed unconditional,’ Frances observes, ‘whereas Bobbi had strong principles that she applied to everyone, me included.

I do enjoy that there are no hang-ups over sexuality in this book—Frances is openly bisexual and never met with disapproval with even her own mother expressing disappointment when her and Bobbi break up—but there is still the lingering political issues around abortion in Ireland. Written when the Repeal the 8th movement was at its peak (Ireland would legalize abortion in 2018), Rooney notes the lag in women’s reproductive rights such as when, after a miscarriage, Frances notes she is at least glad she ‘didn’t need to consider things like Irish constitutional law,’ and the attempted shaming from the doctor who left the curtain open and ‘didn’t ask me if I was alright.’ Lingering hang-ups around sexuality due to obdurate Catholicism in Ireland filter through all three of Rooney’s novels, such as Connell’s aversion to BDSM in Normal People and the thematic plea against being judgemental in Beautiful World, Where Are You.

Maybe he just likes to act passive so he doesn’t have to take the blame for anything.

Nick is an interesting character, one who is youthful looking enough to pass as much younger than he is, and uses past hurt to greenlight his own indiscretions. The novel approaches power-dynamics pretty head on (if one was wondering if Rooney see’s this relationship as inappropriate or not, look to Beautiful World, Where Are You), with Nick having anxiety about an affair with a young college girl and Frances trying to feel above power-dynamic stereotypes while still seeing herself as the victim who will eventually be tossed aside. ‘He has all the power and I have none,’ Frances thinks, ‘this wasn't exactly true, but that night it was clear to me for the first time how badly I'd underestimated my vulnerability.’ It’s hard to not question if Nick is exploiting her vulnerability, having a celebrity status and must certainly be aware of her mental health struggles, though it is also evident Nick doesn’t notice this and views himself, in his own depression, as a victim to Melissa just trying to find love.

A few years ago Tavi Gevinson published an article on sexual power dynamics (here) using personal experience and the public discourse around Brittany Spears when she was still a teen to look at how men have weaponized ideas of sex positivity to create a false sense of power balance in order to exploit it. ‘ There is a difference between having power and feeling empowered,’ she writes, and Frances having minor celebrity status locally and the youth culture that opens the door for fun and frivolity in no way is actually balancing Nick. He respects her but Gevinson says ‘ If you can still be considered “mature for your age,” you are not an older person’s equal. This observation can easily go from an act of respect to license for harm,’ and she questions how power imbalance complicates ideas of consent. Akin to Frances thinking of their affair as empowering, Gevinson writes:
I now view some of my “empowering” experiences as violating, exploitative, and manipulative. I noticed that “gray” and “complicated” were words I used to stop questioning whatever had happened, rather than to understand it…and that, again, prioritizes men’s identities over their actions.

This is pertinent to the story here, especially as Nick is worried about his image so much (it is a bummer to learn the abuser in the Gevinson article is the dude from Vampire Weekend, sorry all). But all this is neither here nor there in the context of the novel, which doesn’t present issues for judgement but rather to watch them play out and think about the elements. The relationship web is very tangled here to aid that effect, and while it might seem easy to dismiss this as merely a book full of awful people, I’d argue they are just people as people are: flawed and fearful, bruising each other as they flail about at the whims of their desires. Besides, I like “unlikeable” characters and I think that’s half the point of literature: to understand the perspectives of others and learn empathy. This book nails it.

Is it possible we could develop an alternative model of loving each other?

I will wave the banner for Conversations With Friends all day long. This is a complex story with a lot of emotional and interpersonal mechanics just beneath the surface, written with an exacting insight. These characters feel lifelike in their presentation, aided with Rooney’s mastery at dialogue through which the bulk of the book plays out, and they are people you feel like you know. Just some problematic friends who are here to have a conversation, and, as the length of this can attest, there is much to say and ponder long after finishing.


When you broke up with me I felt you beat me at a game we were playing together, and I wanted to come back and beat you. Now I think I just want to sleep with you, without metaphors.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,848 followers
February 3, 2022
The language is precise. The sentences have a staccato rhythm that I first found appealing but after a while they made me feel as if there were a ball peen hammer tapping on my head as I read along. The narrator is hyperactively self-aware and eventually I wanted to slap her. The stakes didn't seem particularly high. Many of the scenes seemed unnecessary. The book seemed unnecessary.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,136 reviews8,145 followers
May 18, 2019
I really admire Sally Rooney’s writing. Her stories aren’t perfect, just like her characters, but they feel very authentic.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,152 reviews1,690 followers
January 16, 2023

Alex Katz: Sharon and Vivien (in copertina).

Conosco bene Frances, la protagonista e voce narrante di questo romanzo: ha difficoltà a esprimere le sue emozioni, e i suoi sentimenti, è così trattenuta che finisce col farsi del male (anche fisico).
Appartiene al mio stesso club, però abbiamo preso la tessera in tempi diversi: lei, tenerella, è giovane giovane - perfino più di mio figlio - ha solo ventun’anni.
Potevo piangere tranquilla perché nessuno poteva vedermi, e non l’avrei detto a nessuno.
Per Frances mostrare ed esprimere le sue emozioni è un modo di “fare richieste” agli altri, agli amici, una forma di costrizione, e lei si rifiuta.

Credo che sia per questo che spesso la gente la percepisce distante, perfino ostica, tagliente: perché Frances si scherma, si reprime, rimane in bilico più bloccata che slanciata.
Lo pensa sia Melanie, che la fotografa e apprezza il suo talento letterario – Frances scrive poesie che poi recita insieme alla sua migliore amica, Bobbi, amica ed ex fidanzata: insieme si esibiscono nei locali, Bobbi è quella più recitante, Frances scrive e legge, insieme fanno “spoken poetry”.
Lo pensa anche il marito di Melanie, Nick, trentaduenne attore di successo di rara bellezza e dolcezza, di cui Frances s’innamora, ma ha molta fatica a dirlo e dimostrarlo, vorrebbe tanto che fosse lui a dirlo e dimostrarlo. Hanno una storia, fanno l’amore insieme, molto bene, si baciano con intensità: ma Nick è sposato, proprio con Melanie, e pensa che Frances non sia particolarmente ‘presa’ da lui – lei è trattenuta, e pensa che Nick non sia particolarmente ‘preso’ da lei…

Ma Frances non è né ostica né aggressiva, né distante né tagliente: ha un raro talento per la conversazione – non solo la prontezza di avere sempre la cosiddetta “risposta pronta”, ma di sapere andare oltre, di pronunciare parole intelligenti e ironiche, lasciando spesso il suo interlocutore un passo o due indietro. È quello che succede a Nick che perlopiù si limita ad annuire, ma nonostante i suoi abbondanti dieci anni in più, si sente poca cosa paragonato a Frances.
Se qualcuno la definisce bisessuale (a un certo punto sarà coinvolta contemporaneamente sia in una relazione omo che etero, e a un certo punto il ménage è a quattro, non solo a tre), Frances risponde genialmente che si sente più che altro “onnivora”, così rifiutando ogni etichetta di genere.

Sally Rooney

Il talento verbale di Frances echeggia quello che la sua creatrice Sally Rooney sviluppò negli anni giovanili (non che ora non sia giovane, nonostante due magnifici romanzi all’attivo e la sceneggiatura della serie molto bella tratta dal suo secondo libro, Sally Rooney non ha ancora compiuto trent’anni) e che la portò a vincere premi internazionali nelle “gare di dibattito” (attività, o sport, o disciplina con la quale noi italici siamo ben poco pratici, e se non fosse per qualche film, probabilmente non ne conosceremmo neppure l’esistenza).

Frances, Bobbi (altro magnifico personaggio), Nick, Melissa (& affettuosamente gli altri) chattano, si scambiano messaggi, hanno il cellulare in una mano, con l’altra digitano sulla tastiera del computer e perlustrano internet per cercare voli low cost, offerte di lavoro, info su malattie e terapie, si mandano mail (anche alla persona che vive nella stanza accanto, alla faccia della comunicazione diretta, vis à vis), usano (moderatamente) Facebook, guardano Netflix, s’inviano link (ma stranamente ascoltano più cd che mp3), vivono a Dublino e conosciamo bene il boom economico dell’Irlanda (mentre qui iniziava, o proseguiva, lo sboom), sono moderni, contemporanei, inseriti, al passo coi tempi, à la page.
Ma i problemi che li avviluppano e coinvolgono sono piuttosto eterni: comunicazione, espressione, amicizia, amore, realizzazione…

Si definisce questo romanzo, e la letteratura di Sally Rooney, come espressione della generazione “millennial”: anche se, a rigor di termini, Frances, che è nata nel 1996, credo si dovrebbe definire generazione Z. Ma son bischerate, lascio perdere.

Tornando a Frances, legge “Middlemarch” alternandolo ai vangeli, ha sicuramente letto Jane Austen, scrive il suo primo racconto (che vende a una rivista per ottocento euro sistemando il conto in banca che era così rosso da rifiutarle prelievi) descrivendo così efficacemente la sua migliore amica e fidanzata che Bobbi reagisce traslocando e lasciandola.
Frances è affetta da endometriosi, ha cicli mestruali che la portano perfino a svenire per il dolore, è autolesionista fino al punto da infierire sul suo corpo per infliggersi dolore fisico, che si aggiunge a quello della patologia: ma non direi che si autocommiseri, si pianga addosso, che tenti di giustificarsi e assolversi – piuttosto, si racconta e osserva, analitica e asettica. Ma sempre divertente ed emozionante.

Debate competition

Sally Rooney adotta una scrittura che mi verrebbe da definire elementare, che mi fa pensare alle tabelline, l’aritmetica più elementare.
Una scelta che trovo funzionale al racconto.
Anche perché accanto alla semplicità della lingua, regala a dosi generose acume di pensiero, osservazione, psicologia, racconto.
Il tutto condito con un piacevolissimo velo di trattenuta ironia.
Ho proprio goduto questo suo romanzo d’esordio, come mi è piaciuto il secondo. Un nome da seguire e non perdere di vista.

Alex Katz: The Black Dress (1960).
Profile Image for Hannah.
592 reviews1,052 followers
June 27, 2019
I have spent the last days periodically exclaiming “God, what a book” (or more correctly, because I do speak German in my real life, “Gott, was ein Buch!” or “Dieses Buch!”). I am feeling vaguely guilty for having given other books five stars because this book is just so much more than most of those. I am in no way objective in my absolute adoration and I don’t think I can adequately articulate how very brilliant I thought this was, so stick with me while I squeal and talk in superlatives.

I dragged my feet reading this book because the reviews are all over the place and it could have been so obnoxious (and some people think it is!): I mean, a book focussing on four fairly privileged young people making themselves miserable? A book where a thirty-something married man starts an affair with a 20-year-old college student? But this book hit me in all the right places. Rooney expertly weaves her tale, her characterization is sharp enough to cut, and her protagonist is a flawed piece of brilliance. Frances grounds this story in a way that worked exceedingly well for me and I found her, while infuriating, insanely relatable and incredibly true to life. Other reviewers have characterized her as unlikable – but I could not disagree more. She behaves stupidly, sure, but she is also lost and sad and sharply book smart while lacking emotional intelligence and I found her so very compelling. She is both the more active part of the relationship while also letting things just happen without taking action. She is incapable of communicating effectively while still being observant.

Rooney also manages something incredible here: she made me feel for the thirty-year-old man sleeping with a much younger woman and lying to his wife. Nick could have been a walking cliché, but Rooney made him so much more well-rounded while never flinching away from the fact that he behaves atrociously. Every single one of the four main characters felt real in a way that fictional characters so rarely do, precisely because Rooney lets them be contradictory and, yes, sometimes unpleasant. But for me this unpleasantness never overshadowed the sympathy I felt for all of them.

I cannot see this book not topping my best of the year list, which on the one hand is great, on the other hand it is only March and I have a whole lot Women’s Prize reading ahead of me. I will read everything Rooney had ever written or will ever write, starting with Normal People when it’ll arrive this weekend.

On reread:
Still a perfect book.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews34.1k followers
July 22, 2018
Audiobook... read by
Alice McMahon

The audio-narration was wonderfully alive an addictive. Granted this isn’t exactly a book a parent would ever recommend to their young adult- 20-ish old child - daughter or son...as this is not an educational book on inspiring relationships —
But for me — as a 66 year old married fart who values honesty- with little-to-zero respect for adultery...( consented is up to the couple -‘lies’- destroy others)....
I enjoyed the ‘conversations’.. the funny/ sensual scenes, and all the drama.
I felt Rooney’s dialogue flowed so well -
- it didn’t drive me into my head - my body simply absorbed the telling of this story.

Some books are selfishly for ourselves - as this one turned out to be for me.
I won’t even begin to try to intellectualize why I liked it... but I did!
I’m won’t recommend it to most people..because for starters I don’t usually recommend books about messy ‘affairs’ ...
But I gotta share — I laughed silly when I was in the hospital parking garage looking for a parking spot listening to a sex scene...
when Frances ( the narrator) says to Nick the night of their first ‘cheating’ Rondevoo ( he’s married)...
.....it was the first time she had sex with A MAN, too...
Frances says to Nick:
“Boy, I’m sure I liked that more than you did”....
I laughed so hard - I missed an available parking spot!!

This is one of those artsy, sexy- literary/naughty- books about young relationships with all the things you DON’T want YOUR daughter mixed up in.

Shhhh, I LOVED IT!!!
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,639 followers
March 22, 2022
4.5 stars

Right in the middle of reading Beautiful World, Where Are You last October, I ran to the bookstore to buy my copy of Rooney's debut novel, Conversations with Friends. I had no doubt I’d be reading her backlog, as well as waiting in line for whatever she publishes next. I had to mentally slap my own hand so I wouldn’t grab this one too soon. When a friend smugly flourished a newly purchased copy of this last month, a kindly tongue-lashing ensued on my part, followed by an embarrassing appeal to not be left behind. In hindsight, I’m not all that proud of myself, but this is Sally Rooney – and I’m completely infatuated with her at the moment! I was not disappointed in the least. What an impressive debut!

“You live through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.”

Rooney’s characters don’t always have the luxury of age and experience on their side. I would venture to guess this is why some people don’t particularly fancy her stories. Readers sometimes find her characters unlikeable. They don’t care for their mistakes, their selfish behaviors, their navel-gazing or their obsessions. The reality, however, is that these people are true to life. If not wholly relatable, then in the very least they are entirely believable. They say and do things that make one squirm. They mislead, miscommunicate, and lie not only to one another but to themselves. They don’t necessarily do these things because they are evil people, but because they are finding their way, learning how to navigate this messy world. I never get the sense that Rooney is trying to tell us to love them or hate them. Just take a look at them and understand them. Do you perhaps see a part of yourself in them? Maybe you recognize your younger, less mature self there somewhere. Another thing they like to do is point out the flaws in one another. If they’re feeling particularly generous, they may indicate a strength in character.

“When Bobbi talked about me if felt like seeing myself in a mirror for the first time.”

The plot of this novel revolves around mainly four people: Bobbi and Frances, best friends and college students who once upon a time dated one another; and the decade-older, married couple Nick and Melissa. As you may suspect, they become entangled in one another’s lives. Though told from Frances’ perspective, we still observe all the various relationships amongst the four on some level. Through Frances, however, we learn the most; but then again, she’s not necessarily reliable. I always find this makes for an irresistible reading experience. I have to constantly remind myself that these are her thoughts, not those of some omniscient narrator or my own. She’s putting preconceived notions about everyone else into my head! I don’t know why I love this so much, but I do! One thing I found intriguing, and surely not a coincidence on Rooney’s part, was that she decided to place Nick in the career of an actor. Yet, he is not the only one playing a part in this novel. Everyone, in his or her own way, acts out a certain role. They don’t necessarily say what they are thinking, but instead say what they believe the others want to hear. Or they misinterpret cues and behave accordingly. They are not necessarily true to themselves or one another. I have to wonder if they even know how to be genuine. And still, I devoured this stuff!

“I looked at Melissa and thought: I hate you. This idea just came from nowhere, like a joke or an exclamation. I didn’t even know if I really hated her, but the words felt and sounded right, like the lyrics to a song I had just remembered.”

Gosh, I have so many thoughts in my head when I think of Rooney and her incredible writing. But you’re going to either love it or hate it, no matter what I have to say about it! She handles dialogue with great skill, and the torture of infatuation and relationships with such credibility that I could feel the discomfort and pain settle in the pit of my stomach at times. There’s infidelity, physical and mental illness, self-harm, self-loathing, and alcoholism. All are handled with Rooney’s deft touch. Never once did I think I was asked to judge these characters, and I think that’s what I love so much about her. We are all in the business of criticizing and passing conclusions on our fellow human beings aren’t we? Sometimes it’s refreshing to simply exist and to observe.

“Everyone’s always going through something, aren’t they? That’s life, basically. It’s just more and more things to go through.”
Profile Image for Blair.
1,770 reviews4,242 followers
July 28, 2020
I think this book might have worked better for me if I'd read it before Elif Batuman's The Idiot. Batuman and Rooney give their narrators similar voices: sharp, clear and deadpan but excessively self-aware. Both use email conversations to map out the development of a relationship. Both novels are told from the perspective of naive, supposedly intelligent young women who appear largely passive, falling into particular courses of action more because of the lack of a viable alternative than any great impetus on their part. When I say 'supposedly intelligent' here I'm really only referring to Rooney's Frances: she seems little more than a poser when juxtaposed with Batuman's protagonist Selin, who is imbued with such palpable intellectual power that her observations and ideas crackle off the page.

The plot follows Frances and Bobbi, her best friend and ex-girlfriend, as they become entangled with an alluring older couple. Initially this is mainly because Bobbi is pursuing Melissa, an artist, but soon Frances enters into an affair with Nick, Melissa's actor husband. The whole story is told from Frances' point of view.

This is a character-driven novel, and for me, the characters were the problem. On a personal level, I hated (most of) them; on a critical level I felt they lacked the necessary depth to make the plot work (in particular, I did not believe in Melissa and Nick as a thirtysomething married couple). When I think about it, Frances is true to a lot of what I remember about being 21 – her thoughts are self-absorbed, self-flagellating and gullible, her conversations filled with mildly endearing, very performative intellectual posturing – but for whatever reason, she made me roll my eyes with exasperation rather than feel nostalgic for that period of my own life.

In contrast to the likes of The Idiot and Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter, which offer fresh, provocative and delightful reinterpretations of the coming-of-age plot, Conversations with Friends is the sort of book that makes me think maybe I should stop reading fiction about people younger than me. Almost everyone in it is irredeemably narcissistic, pretentious and nowhere near as smart as they think they are. I wanted to slap Frances and punch Nick. The disproportionate ire aimed at stories about women who have affairs has long been a pet hate of mine, but in this case, I could find absolutely no sympathy for Frances and just felt irritated every time she got bogged down in her emotional distress over Nick. Unfortunately, this makes up an awful lot of the book.

The narrative is always best when it moves away from Frances and Nick's relationship. An episode in which Frances is taken to hospital is lucidly realised, and in general Rooney's descriptions of sickness and pain are powerful. Bobbi is intriguing, though the tight focus on Frances doesn't quite allow enough room for the reader to see the charismatic figure other characters treat her as. (I'd have preferred the story – or at least part of it – to be told from Bobbi's perspective.) So yeah – I loved Rooney's writing here, she's so talented, and incredibly young to have written a novel so poised and polished. Despite the issues I had with Conversations with Friends, I'm really looking forward to reading more from her. I just hope she writes about less insufferable people next time.

I received an advance review copy of Conversations with Friends from the publisher through NetGalley.

TinyLetter | Linktree
Profile Image for Rebecca.
236 reviews205 followers
November 5, 2022
Frances and Bobbi are bestfriends and ex girlfriends. They've known each other for a long time and have been friends since high school. The two now perform spoken word poetry together as a side while studying in Dublin. When they are approached by Melissa, a journalist, they see themselves entering a world of success and wealth. Each is drawn to a spouse, Bobbi to Melissa and Frances to Melissa's husband, Nick. Gradually these bonds evolve and soon enough Frances feels things spiral out of control.

There was something so therapeutic about reading this. Which is odd because it had a kind of depressing undertone. I felt seen and comforted by this story. Frances reminded me of my younger self so much. Which, if you met me now would be hard to believe!

The writing is beautiful, it’s written in such a ‘matter-of-fact’ authentic way. I could feel myself absorbing every word. I loved it. I haven’t read Normal People but a work colleague persuaded me to watch the television series when it first aired and I loved it. There is no denying Sally Rooney is talented. I understand the hype now.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
April 20, 2020
Compelling and cool, Conversations with Friends places millennial malaise and an unexpected love affair against the backdrop of summertime Dublin. The fast-paced plot follows a pair of privileged college-aged performance poets and exes, Bobbi and Frances, as they become entangled with an older, slightly famous married couple, Nick and Melissa. The bulk of the story concerns the rise and fall of Nick and Frances's romance. The two flirt by messenger, bonding over their shared lack of direction, armchair socialism, and sharp wits; Frances soon has sex for the first time with Nick, the two vacation at a French beach house, and, inevitably, Melissa discovers and cooly responds to the affair. The fallout is messy and strange. Interestingly, the drama of the story is overshadowed by the novel's incisive dialogue. The conversations Frances has with Bobbi, Nick, and Melissa assume a variety of forms— furtive email messages, muted face-to-face interactions, rushed texts—and the characters muse about everything from love under late capitalism to the merits of anarchism. The rapid conversations, along with Rooney's exhilarating prose, make the novel move at a dizzying pace. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,555 followers
June 30, 2019
Very, very strong, though I prefer the ping-ponging perspectives of the wonderful NORMAL PEOPLE. Rooney has such an uncanny knack for love squares and cliffhangers, and you'll fly through this, as I did. Her affectless prose is startling, though CWF has a few linguistic flourishes, especially toward the end, that slightly imbalance the text. She is a master of plot, of the importance of gestures, and desire. The one other thing about this book is that the lead repeatedly makes the same mistake in each of the 4 plot centers (health, father, ex-gf, potential bf) of the novel - she doesn't communicate. Though this is a consistent character trait, I found myself wishing for a bit more variety. I see why this debut brought Rooney attention - she's a star.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books399 followers
February 19, 2023
Yikes. Why is this popular?

This book concerns the romantic entanglements of flat, unlikable, privileged characters, who never overcome their self-absorption and shallowness.

The shallowness of the characters and the uninteresting plot are coupled with a pretentious writing style, which makes this book all the more dreadful.

To top it off, the reader is subjected to a large number of poorly written text messages and emails between characters. Dear authors: please don't do that.

This book is, unfortunately, just a waste of time without any redeemable qualities, in my opinion.
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