Sally Rooney is one of the few authors whose books I read that are millennials just like me; she’s actually less than three years older than me. This makes her words feel a lot closer to my own life and her characters much more relatable. She discusses the things that our generation wonders about daily and writes about them very naturally and beautifully.
In this blog post, I talk about the three books she has published so far. I always warn you before the paragraphs that contain spoilers and they are all in italics.
Like most people, I heard of the TV adaptation first. Only after I binged on that, I read the book. I loved both, and I think the series reflects the book very well and is pretty faithful to it. After all, Rooney co-wrote the script. In the book, I found the lack of quotation marks a bit weird and annoying at first, but not enough to not enjoy the book. I found both main characters relatable and interesting, and the story of their love and friendship captivating.
Most of all, I enjoyed Rooney’s writing style, how naturally the dialogue flows, and how she makes you feel like you’re in the room with the characters, listening to them or watching them having a cup of tea. Another thing Sally Rooney is great at is writing sex scenes: she makes them hot but believable, bold but fragile. I don’t think I’ve ever read better ones anywhere. E. L. James and Anna Todd could really learn something from Rooney’s novels.
(The following paragraph contains a partial spoiler, go ahead and skip it if you’d like.)
However, I must say that I found the ending a bit unnecessary: why make their happiness ambiguous, why not just let them be? She could have let Marianne and Connell stay physically and emotionally together. After all, they have just finished their bachelor’s studies at the end of the book, which means they still have plenty of time to break up. I’m sure the readers would know that, and it would’ve left the ending “open” enough if this is what the author was seeking.
Conversations with Friends
This is the first novel Sally Rooney published (she was only 26), but it’s the second one I read. Actually, I listened to the audio version, and I decided to do it quite randomly and after reading some quite unfavourable reviews, so I didn’t have great expectations. People were saying that the characters are unlikeable and unrelatable, that the main character doesn’t make any sense, etc. I found it to be quite the opposite, after finishing it I felt like I love it more than Normal People. I’m not sure if I do; Normal People is so completely intertwined with the series in my head that I’ll probably have to read it again.
(The next three paragraphs contain spoilers.)
I think that some people hate this book because one of its main topics is cheating. The main character, Francis, is having an affair with a married man, Nick. However, Francis is only 21, while Nick is 32 and fighting depression. Francis isn’t doing that great mentally either, and Nick’s wife had admitted to cheating on him twice before Nick and Francis even met. The couple was sleeping in separate bedrooms when Nick and Francis started sleeping together. I’m not saying that all this makes cheating right, I’m just saying that circumstances do matter. I didn’t feel like Francis and Nick were bad people, they just seemed human to me.
I found Francis very intriguing as a person; she was quite bold for a 21-year-old. She seduced Nick and not the other way around. The friendship between the married couple and the two friends is very intriguing throughout the book. The relationship between Francis and Bobbi is interesting on its own too: the girls are ex-girlfriends who have remained friends.
While the chemistry between Nick and Francis definitely convinced me, the one between Bobbi and Francis didn’t, at least not the sexual part of it. They just seemed good friends to me, whatever romantic and sexual feelings they used to have for one another stayed in the past. I think this might be because Rooney never describes them having sex, while there are several great sex scenes involving Nick. Sex between people of the same sex is mentioned in her novels but never described, even if some of the main characters are bisexual or gay.
The things that are good in Normal People stand out in this book too: the style, the dialogue, the sex scenes, and the intelligent and observant conversations about the world and the society (there are actually more of those in this book, I think). This novel doesn’t have quotation marks either, but I actually didn’t notice that because I was listening to it. This time, I kind of loved the ending. It was surprising and to me it made sense. Again, it left all the options open, even though we can imagine it probably won’t work out the second time either, probably not between any of the couples in the story.
Beautiful World, Where Are You
Sally Rooney’s last novel is gorgeous. This time, the protagonists are a bit older, in their late twenties and in their thirties. The most interesting character is probably Alice, who’s a young famous author, just like Sally herself. Even though Alice’s story is not Sally’s story, I’m sure that Alice says many things that Sally thinks. The most addictive relationship to read about, at least to me, is the one between Eileen and Simon. It comes close to the one between Nick and Francis, but there’s even more caring and love.
I feel like this book is divided between the stories of Eileen’s and Alice’s love life and the emails that the two friends from university exchange. The idea of writing emails to a friend sounds so cool but also something not many people would do. Most people exchange WhatsApp audios these days (including me). Anyway, the emails mostly discuss the world we live in: the environment, having children despite the possibly shitty future they might have to live in, consumerism, capitalism, faith, and love. They are intelligent and interesting, but at times I found myself waiting for them to finish just so that I could learn more about what happens between the characters next.
(Spoilers in the next paragraph.)
Just some random observations
I kind of wished I could’ve found out more about Alice’s breakdown, how exactly it happened, etc. Also, I think Felix is extremely weird at times, and I don’t think I was entirely convinced by the attraction and the love that the two are supposed to feel for each other. Eileen and Simon were much more understandable to me in that sense. The fight between Eileen and Alice in the kitchen was phenomenal and so real. Long friendships between women are hard but also beautiful and so worth it. I also love the parts where Rooney takes the reader out of the room and describes the outside world: the moon or the sea or a street in Dublin.
What the books have in common
Conversations With Friends is written in the first person, while the other two books are in the third person. Normal People is in the present, while the other two are in the past. A big part of all three books takes place in Dublin. All the novels also involve a trip to some kind of holiday house that is either abroad or on the Irish coast. All the protagonists are Irish. Literature is somehow important in all the novels: Marianne loves to read, Connell is a writer, Francis is a poet, Melissa is a writer and journalist, and Alice is a (famous) author. Literary events in Dublin are often mentioned, the main characters talk about politics and society a lot and there’s a lot of (straight) sex.
All three books read fast and easily but are beautifully written and touching. The last novel is the one with the most humour, and the first one might be the most striking one (I guess because affairs are so controversial). I believe that Sally Rooney truly manages to represent the world in which millennials live, the thoughts we have, and the decisions we make. Her novels are wholesome: they talk about difficult family relations, the importance of friendship and sex, the uncertainty and ugliness of the world but also the beauty of it. The characters aren’t the nicest or the most moral and perfect of people, but they seem human; she could be talking about you or me. And this is what makes her novels so great.
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