I picked up this book on a total hunch. At the time, Sally Rooney’s other book Normal People had achieved rave reviews. On the basis of Normal People, I picked up Conversations with Friends. I had to know why everyone was talking about Sally Rooney and what’s so good about her books.
Turns out that Rooney is a masterful story teller. Actually, more than telling a story, it’s her skill to be so deeply perceptive of human relationships. Not much happens in terms of plot, but within all what happens, the writer takes us into the minds of these characters and their thought processes.
The book is set in Dublin, Ireland. We have 21 year old Frances, a student who’s pretty much chilled out and easy going. She lives with her ex-girlfriend Bobbi. Together at night, they perform at various Spoken Word events. One evening, they happen to meet another woman Melissa, who is a well known journalist. In hopes of being interviewed and getting more mileage for their work, Frances and Bobbi become very good friends with the journalist.
Melissa introduces her husband Nick, to the girls. Bobbi takes an instant liking to Nick. As Frances and Bobbi start to experience Melissa’s world- filled with parties, events, fancy houses, posh dinners- Bobbi starts to fall for Nick. This makes Frances jealous. This brings up new feelings for Frances, and for the first time she begins to explore her vulnerabilities, fears, hopes and in the process truly understands who she truly is.
This book is essentially about four characters only. Our main focus is on Frances. We see everything through her eyes. But what sets this book apart from other such books is that the writer explores the complex human relationships. It’s a modern day book and so these characters feel very relevant and current. I know of a friend who is similar to one of the character in the book so the parallel were eerily the same. (There is book called Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne, who talks about how we relate and converse with other people from our three different ego states and Conversations with Friends is an ideal book to understand from the perspective of Transactional Analysis).
It is witty, fast and in some ways fun to be a witness to the lives of these four friends. There is nothing majorly dramatic that happens, but even in the simplicity of things, some events can seem dramatic.
Rooney skills lies in understanding and perceiving the complex human relationships. Frances may be angry, but what is behind that anger. Bobbi may take a liking for Nick, but what is driving Bobbi to question her sexuality? Melissa takes on these two girls in her interview, but what is really going in her mind? Nick, while being married to Melissa, indulges in a physical relationship with Bobbi, but why? Nothing is ever simple and Rooney does a fine job in helping us see how complicated humans being can be.
Short, funny, emotional and ultimately satisfying, Conversations with Friends will feel like as if you just had hung out with four friends of yours and you will be glad to have been a part of their journeys.
(Normal People had recently been dramatised into a short season on BBC to rave reviews. I cannot find that book here in Lahore, so I am looking to get my hands on that one!)