Conversations with Friends’: On the Discursive Act of Loving and Being Loved

By Raeanne Ong, age 17, Raffles Institution, Singapore

Startlingly illuminating, and unapologetically honest, Sally Rooney’s debut novel, “Conversations with Friends,” surfaces the nuanced complexities of human relationships, and the way in which they construct and define us. Set in Dublin, the novel follows 21-year-old college student and aspiring writer, Frances, and her beautiful, intelligent best friend and ex-girlfriend, Bobbi, with whom she performs spoken-word poetry. After a chance encounter at one of their performances, they become acquainted with Melissa, a journalist, and her husband, a handsome, semifamous actor named Nick. Suddenly, and inexplicably, the pair of friends find themselves indelibly drawn into the couple’s world as Bobbi befriends the ceaselessly fascinating Melissa, and Frances finds herself unwittingly enthralled by Nick. As the story progresses, so too does the complexity of Frances’s relationships, as they slowly begin to spiral out of her control.

Although arguably not as acclaimed as her 2018 breakout hit “Normal People,” Rooney’s debut novel is certainly not to be overlooked. “Conversations with Friends” combines Rooney’s deadly precision and clarity of prose with characters that are real, relatable and as charming as they are intellectual, creating a breathtaking story that is insightful, miserable and wonderful all at once. As its title might suggest, the novel certainly does revolve largely around conversations among friends, and Rooney skilfully makes use of a multitude of different mediums through which to convey these conversations. Through phone calls, emails, instant messenger and, of course, Rooney’s signature dialogue that is purposefully characterized by a lack of quotation marks, the novel never once fails to deliver on dialogue that is both astutely introspective and jarringly relatable. While Rooney’s particular writing style is admittedly fairly polarizing, on the contrary, I believe that it confers her works a distinctive and idiosyncratic kind of charm that is not only effortless and efficacious, but also very much stylized as uniquely Sally Rooney’s.

Most significantly, “Conversations with Friends” informs us that there are no perfect relationships to be found in life. That loving unconditionally implies not a blindness to the flaws of others, but an acceptance of them; that in order to truly love, one must be able to love in spite of them; and to be truly loved, one cannot be afraid of the vulnerability that accompanies intimacy. Only in submitting oneself to the mortifying ordeal of being known, can one truly experience the rewards of being loved. At the end of the day, what Rooney offers in “Conversations with Friends” is not so much a directive on how we should go about experiencing and conducting our relationships, but rather, an ode to the complexities and absurdities that characterize humans and their connections with one another.