Conversations with Friends (Rooney)

Conversations with Friends 
Sally Rooney, 2017
320 pp.

A sharply intelligent novel about friendship, lust, jealousy, and the unexpected complications of adulthood in the 21st century

Frances is a cool-headed and darkly observant young woman, vaguely pursuing a career in writing while studying in Dublin.

Her best friend and comrade-in-arms is the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi.

At a local poetry performance one night, Frances and Bobbi catch the eye of Melissa, a well-known photographer, and as the girls are then gradually drawn into Melissa's world, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman's sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband, Nick.

However amusing and ironic Frances and Nick’s flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy, and Frances’s friendship with Bobbi begins to fracture. As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally, terribly, with Bobbi.
Desperate to reconcile her inner life to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances's intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.

Written with gem-like precision and marked by a sly sense of humor, Conversations with Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth, and the messy edges of female friendship. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Mayo, Ireland
Education—M.A., Trinity College
Awards—Costa Novel Award, An Post Irish Award
Currently—lives in Dublin, Ireland

Sally Rooney is an Irish author, who grew up in Mayo. She earned her B.A. and M.A. degrees from Trinity College in Dublin. While at Trinity she was a champion debater, becoming the No. 1 debater on the European continent.

Rooney's debut novel, Conversations with Friends, was published in 2017. Her second novel, Normal People, released in 2019, won both the Costa Novel Award and the An Post Irish Award. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, The Dylan Thomas Prize, The Women's Prize for Fiction, The Rathbones Folio Prize, and The Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award.

Rooney's work has appeared in Granta, Dublin Review, White Review, Stinging Fly, and the Winter Pages anthology.
(Adapted from the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Rooney writes so well of the condition of being a young, gifted but self-destructive woman, both the mentality and physicality of it. She is alert to the invisible bars imprisoning the apparently free. Though herself young – she was born in 1991 – she has already been shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times EFG short story award. Her hyperarticulate characters may fail to communicate their fragile selves, but Rooney does it for them in a voice distinctively her own.
Guardian (UK)

A novelist to watch: An addictive debut, with nods to Tender is the Night, heralds a bright new talent.
Sunday Times (UK)

A writer of rare confidence, with a lucid, exacting style… [O]ne wonderful aspect of Rooney’s consistently wonderful novel is the fierce clarity with which she examines the self-delusion that so often festers alongside presumed self-knowledge.… But Rooney’s natural power is as a psychological portraitist. She is acute and sophisticated about the workings of innocence; the protagonist of this novel about growing up has no idea just how much of it she has left to do.
New Yorker

Rooney has the gift of imbuing everyday life with a sense of high stakes.… [A] novel of delicious frictions.
Christian Lorentzen - New York Magazine

The self-deceptions of a new generation are at the core of Sally Rooney’s debut, Conversations With Friends, which captures something wonderfully odd-cornered and real in the story of an Irish millennial (10 Best Books of 2017).
Megan O'Grady - Vogue

A very funny, very humanly messy tale of sexual and artistic self-discovery in which every page reveals shrewd emotional insight. Caught between laser-eyed irony and heart-melting sincerity, the book is a masterclass in narrative tone that left me desperate to read whatever Rooney writes next.… ​An addictive, funny and truthful first novel about love and literature​.​

(Starred review.) [S]earing, insightful…. Rooney lets readers glimpse the rich interior of Frances's life — capturing the tension and excitement of her attraction to Nick…. Rooney's descriptive eye lends beauty and veracity to this complex and vivid story.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) [T]races the emotional intricacies that draw people together as well as … complicate these connections. Frances is a tricky narrator, brilliant and analytical yet somehow unknowable to herself and others.… Exceptional. —John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Library Journal

(Starred review.) A smart, sexy, realistic portrayal of a woman finding herself.

[Rooney] deftly illustrates psychology's first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns. A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Conversation with Friends … then take off on your own:

1. How would you describe the two protagonists at the heart of Conversations With Friends — Francis, the narrator, and Bobbi, her best friend. Start, say, with this observation from Francis:

[Bobbi] could be abrasive and unrestrained in a way that made people uncomfortable, while I tended to be encouragingly polite. Mothers always liked me a lot, for example.

2. How has her past shaped Frances, especially, say, her father's angry bouts of drinking? What has she carried with her from childhood?

3. What was Francis and Bobbi's relationship early on … and how has it evolved? Who has the power in the relationship and in what way? Does the power equation change?

4. What does Francis mean when she declares herself anti-love?

5. Bobbi told Francis that she thought Francis lacked a "real personality," but that she meant it as a compliment. what do you think Bobbi meant by that?

6. In what way would you describe the banter between the two as competitive, almost like playing badminton or tennis?

7. What do the conversations between Frances and Bobbi do — do they provide enlightenment ...  entertainment ... or emotional connection? In other words, what purpose, if any, do the conversations serve?

   Consider, for instance, the exchange between the two young women over love —  variously defined as an "interpersonal phenomenon," a "social value system," or a "discursive practice" whose effect is "unpaid labor." During the course of the novel, how are those definitions turned on their heads? (Or are they?) How would do you define love?

8. Capitalism and its failure with the 2008 financial collapse is at the root of the two women's concerns. How do they view capitalism? How has the system failed them, their generation, and/or their country?

9. Why is Melissa drawn to the Bobbi and Francis, and what makes Melissa so appealing to them?

10. How would you describe the marriage between Melissa and Nick? Is Nick the intellectual equal of his wife?

11. When Frances enters upon an affair with Nick, how does she feel about her role as an adulteress? Does she see it as a cliche? She tells Nick that she's only doing it "ironically." What does she mean? Would you say that Frances is deluding herself … in possession of self-knowledge … or vacillating between the two?

12. Bobbi comes from wealth. How do you view her scorn for money?

13. When her husband and Frances's affair comes to light, what do you think of Melissa's willingness to share Nick with Frances? Is she self-deluded? Or clear-eyed? Do Nick's feelings for either woman invalidate his feelings for the other? Can love be shared?

14. How is the friendship between Frances and Bobbi affected by the affair between Frances and Nick?

15. This novel might be seen as a coming-of-age story. What does it have to say about innocence and growing up? How are the characters, especially Frances, changed over the course of the novel?

16. What do you think the title means? Is it ironic? Are the young women friends? Do they hold conversations?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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