Given the hype around Sally Rooney’s third novel, paired with the fact that I adored Conversations With Friends and Normal People, I was surprisingly not that concerned about reading the book for fear of disappointment or anything like that – I knew I would love it and I did love it, it’s as simple as that. I even accidentally (I swear) matched with the book at the launch event in September.
As with most Rooney, a “plot” summary can’t really be written, as there wasn’t a plot so to speak but rather a window into everyday life and the relationships within it. It is a novel about female friendship, socialism, and the arguably inescapable grip that class has on Ireland (which I think extends to Northern Ireland and the UK at large) even in supposedly non-political situations, which Rooney spoke in fascinating detail about during the launch event.
I don’t think the characters – across Rooney’s work – are particularly easy to tell apart. Similarly to how the voices of Alice and Eileen merge in my mind through their email correspondence in this novel, both characters displayed traces of Frances and Bobbi from Conversations With Friends as well as Marianne from Normal People. That said, I often find I think similarly to how Rooney’s characters do, meaning their voices are clear and strong, and though at times frustratingly indecisive, unquestionably relatable.
I spoke to people who hadn’t read any Rooney before, and found themselves waiting for something to “happen”, and then of course being rather disappointed to hear the Rooney tribe exclaim delightfully, “Indeed, nothing happens, and that’s the point! Isn’t she wonderful?!” Someone said to me they liked it well enough, that they could recognise it was good, but in the same way they could appreciate an outfit looked great on someone but would never buy it for themselves. I loved that, and it’s important to remember in literature that sometimes, something just doesn’t work for someone which is what this whole delightful process is all about.
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