I’ve been so curious about Sally Rooney’s novels. I had put them on hold at the library along with a million other people, and this week I finally got to read both Conversations with Friends and Normal People. I only buy books when I know I’ll reread them at some point, and I’m definitely going to buy Normal People so I can highlight certain passages.
I read ConversationsÂ first and liked it enough, but I findÂ Normal PeopleÂ the more optimistic book. I care about Connell and Marianne, and I root for them.Â The characters from the Conversations with Friends, Rooney’s debut, are clever and interesting, but ultimately not necessarily people I’d be eager to revisit. But I plan on buying that book too because I also want to highlight passages in that one.
Many times I’ve been disappointed by overhyped books. They’re often praised for their gorgeous prose, but usually I come away bored by the plotline or unable to connect with the characters. Rooney’s books are different. They have stakes. Every little decision, and yes, even a text message, has big consequences. Her protagonists change and grow up. They help and influence each other, mostly for the better. Reading these books is theÂ closest I’ve come to being inside another person’s head and heart, someone emotionally intelligent, psychologically astute, but fascinatingly self destructive.
I can see now why everyone from Instagram models to esteemed book critics are recommending Sally Rooney novels. Her prose is accessible and easy to breeze through. Both books are about young people in love, so it can appeal to someone looking for a quick beach read. The covers (and titles, which to me sound like Nicole Holofcener films) connote witty stories for clever people. And there are enough on social class, power dynamics, capitalism, abuse, and the complexity of relationships to keep the critics busy.
So read both books. They’ll only take a day or two each. Read ConversationsÂ with Friends first so by Normal People, you’ll be used to her writing style. You’ll likely feel simultaneously wiser and dumber when you’re done. Wiser because Rooney’s ability to put complex thoughts and feelings in sparse sentences is a gift that will heighten your own senses. And dumber because the rest of us are unlikely to ever get to that level of crystal cut internal reflection and comprehension.
Join my Cuppa Tea Book Club group on Goodreads, and let me know your thoughts on Normal People. There are discussion threads for every book pick with no deadlines, so please jump in on any conversation at any time.