Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Sally Rooney’

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney tells the story of Alice and Eileen, thirty year-olds who had been friends since meeting at university.

Alice is an extremely successful novelist who struggles socially and suffers from mental health issues. Her only real friend is Eileen, but after moving to a remote Irish village their friendship is now conducted by email. When Alice went on a date with Felix, a dodgy local who she met on Tinder, she doubled her social circle.

Although Alice and Felix agreed that their date had been unsuccessful they were intrigued by each other and Alice asked Felix, who didn’t read novels, worked in a warehouse and who wasn’t her type, to travel with her to Rome while she promoted her latest book. Somehow they became friends and eventually, lovers.

Meanwhile, Eileen had been working in Dublin for subsidence wages at a literary magazine, fighting with her sister who was about to get married and flirting with Simon, a lovely, lovely man whom she had known since childhood. It seemed clear to me that Eileen and Simon were in love with each other and had been for their whole lives, but despite their on and off sexual relationship they couldn’t seem to commit to each other, worrying that if their romantic relationship ended they might ruin their friendship.

The story alternated between what was going on in Alice and Eileen’s day to day lives and the emails they sent each other, where they discussed the meaning of life, philosophy, religion and the big issues around them, including climate change and the possibility of the world coming to an end, and towards the end of the novel, the changes to modern life as wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic which was newly upon them.

Eventually Eileen and Simon visited Alice at her new home where their conversations were finally held in person.

The story is beautifully written and as always, my only complaint is that Sally Rooney doesn’t use quotation marks for her character’s conversations.

As an older reader, I found the characters to be annoying in a Millennial-type of way, wishy-washy, banal and somewhat entitled, but to be fair, they were also brilliant, articulate, generous and loving. They were also enormously open about issues that a previous generation would have kept to themselves, for example, their mental health and their sexuality. A change for the better, I’m sure.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader who will wonder if Sally Rooney used Alice’s experiences to make a point about readers thinking that they ‘know’ Rooney based on their knowledge of her books.

Fans of Normal People and Conversations with Friends and new Sally Rooney-readers will appreciate Beautiful World, Where Are You.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

It wasn’t all that long ago that every second book reviewer on WordPress was recommending Normal People by Sally Rooney which made me keen to read the story for myself. I’d already read Conversations with Friends and thought it very good.

Normal People, for the other three people left in the world who haven’t already read this book, follows the story of Connell and Marianne who went to school together in a small town in Ireland where Connell was in the popular group and Marianne was a loner who was bullied by everyone, including Connell’s friends. Connell and Marianne got to know each other as Connell’s mother cleaned Marianne’s mother’s house.

Connell and Marianne eventually started a physical relationship which Connell was very keen to hide from his friends. They also connected emotionally but Connell disappointed Marianne when he invited another girl to the school’s social event of the year, the Debs. To say that Connell’s mother was also disappointed by his behaviour towards Marianne was an understatement.

The story continued by jumping ahead to Connell and Marianne meeting again at university. At Trinity their social status was reversed as Marianne, who was well off, had made friends but Connell was struggling socially.

Over the next few years Connell and Marianne were sometimes involved with each other romantically but at other times they were just friends, supporting each other through their complicated relationships with other partners. At all times their friendship remained intense.

Connell and Marianne were complicated people, separately and as a couple. Marianne had been bullied by her peers as a schoolgirl, but also by her family for whom violence was normal. As a result Marianne’s preference was to be a ‘submissive’ in her relationships. This scared Connell as he was all too aware that Marianne would allow him to do anything he wanted to her.

Superficially Connell fitted in wherever he went but privately he struggled with anxiety and depression. Both Connell and Marianne felt they were more like themselves together than they were with anyone else but their misunderstandings and anxiety constantly got in the way of their love affair.

The story was told alternately from Connell and Marianne’s point of view. Their feelings of being unworthy of each other, themselves and others was a constant problem, but although their story was often sad, it was also hopeful in that there was the sense that Connell and Marianne would always be there for each other.

Generally I dislike reading about characters in their late teens or early twenties because I’m not interested in the usual whingy, self-absorbed stuff that dominate characters of this age, but although their story was frustrating to read, I found Connell and Marianne’s characters to be likeable and real.

My only complaint was the lack of punctuation used for dialogue. I might be old-fashioned, but I prefer quotation marks to be used. I recall feeling irritated by this lack in Conversations with Friends too.

So, my question to those of you who have read Normal People, tell me what you think is normal. For me, I think everything and nothing is normal, but Connell and Marianne’s version of normal was interesting.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

I’ve been slow to jump onto the Sally Rooney bandwagon, but after sitting up far too late on a weeknight reading Conversations with Friends, I can now consider myself to be a fan of this author’s writing.

Conversations with Friends is told in the first-person by 21 year-old Frances, a frighteningly clever university student, who I hope never meets and takes a liking to my husband.

Frances and her best friend Bobbi, who were previously lovers, were performing spoken-word poetry together when Melissa, a journalist, saw their performance and asked if she could write an article about them. She invited them home with her (that was her first mistake) which was when Frances met Nick, Melissa’s handsome husband.

They moved in the same social circles and Bobbi and Melissa became friends, as Frances and Nick started an affair. Frances fell in love with Nick, despite thinking herself to be too unemotional and indifferent to do so (not realising that not only was this untrue, but she was also self-absorbed, domineering and cruel).

As the title suggests, the story is told as if Frances is relaying it directly into the ear of the reader, including retelling the listener the details of the phone, email and face-to-face conversations she had with other characters.

Frances is enormously unlikeable and most of the other characters, except for Nick, have very little charm either. Frances and Nick’s affair is messy and so is Frances’ relationship with Bobbi, her parents and her other friends. All of the characters were very real.

I feel as if I should have been annoyed by the lack of quotation marks used but the story flowed without them. The writing is very good and the story is too.

Normal People is next on my list.

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