‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney is all about the choices we make as we inevitably decide to intervene the exhilarating years of our lives.
Sally Rooney has won the 2017 Sunday Times, Peters Frasers and Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the 2019 International Dublin Literary Award for her debut novel, ‘Conversations with Friends’ published by Faber and Faber in May, 2017.
The novel portrays four main characters- our protagonist, a 21 year old Frances who in order to repress her vulnerability, acts damagingly aloof and at times is devoid of any personality; and her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi who immediately catches the light with her vivid political views and a generally confident aura. These two form a quadratic relationship when they meet a married couple, Melissa and Nick, who are well in their thirties. Melissa is an established author and clearly the more present one whereas Nick, a ‘naturally gorgeous’ actor whose career never really took off, consciously forms the background.
It was quite natural that Melissa and Frances, both being writers would bond better. But a few gatherings show Melissa taking off rather well with a very pleased Bobbi.
And obviously, the other two left in a blur, Nick and Frances get on with an affair.
The relationship between Melissa, Nick and Frances get more and more complicated. Nick, with his chaotic immediate past and his inability to truly understand any of the two womens’ thoughts and intentions. Frances using defence mechanisms for her consistent fear of defencelessness, and when questioned for her apparent lack of emotions, replies, “It’s not an emotive topic for me”. And Melissa with her subtle sense of ownership over Nick.
Though Bobbi seems to be in the sidelines sometimes, she never becomes a blur like the initial portrayal of Nick, and rather keeps the dynamic holding on to the ground with her ‘shameless’ness by unclothing herself to swim in the lake or through her discussions about the definitions of love with Frances, which can always be revisited and ‘not confined to memory alone’.
Almost all the decisions and actions taken by Melissa, Nick and Frances are messy and impromptu, whereas Bobbi proves to be the most aware of oneself with complete ease and confidence, among the lot.
A lot of relatable characteristics, like Frances’s conscious effort to be in the background and harming herself while she says “We can sleep together if you want, but you should know I’m only doing it ironically”; Bobbi’s repeated acceptance of apologies; Melissa’s act of vengeance or Nick’s scrupling to clear things out – have been so effortlessly introduced and embedded into the novel, that at the end, everything that happens is only normal.
Though not full of urgency, ‘Conversations with Friends’ is a very pacey book written in only three weeks, with simple words and indulging views. Every reader will probably have their own favourite character and thus have separate interpretations of morality and wanting when Bobbi and Frances say ‘What is a friend? We would say humorously. What is a conversation?’