Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Frances is awkward, unusual, unsure of herself and of her character.

She glides through her relationships with people, decisions in life, education, work, money. She is a university student, a poet and she defines herself by her constant relationship with her high school friend and former girlfriend Bobbi.

Apparently “normal” and “usual”, she hides her true self, always on the verge of self-abuse, self-hatred, obsession with people near her, her indifferent mother and specially her abusive drunken father always on her mind. Insecure with her body, hurting herself in order to feel, to find out her feelings and thoughts. Pain as a way of understanding herself.

“My body felt completely disposable, like a placeholder for something more valuable. I fantasized about taking it apart and lining my limbs up side by side to compare them.”

And this is Rooney’s magic, characters so intricate, so real, so well described, lifelike and at the same time very unique, unusual and dark. Rooney’s characters or relationships are always complicated, interesting and different, but so very human. They are so very human and so real-life that it is impossible to stay impartial towards them. Rooney makes you feel her characters, their lives and their problems.

„At any time I felt I could do or say anything at all, and afterwards think: oh so that’s the kind of person I am.”

Conversations with friends and relationships with friends are always awkward in a way, they show all insecurities and flaws of the people involved. They are always, at least partly, acting. They are full of strategies how to define yourself towards others in the group, the newcomer, the old friend. Always filled with definitions of who is the best, who is better, prettier, smarter, more interesting. Always a thing of personal domination. Who is dominating whom here? Bobbi with Frances, Frances with Nick, Melissa with Nick…

 Something that feels as casual as time with friends isn’t that way at all. A very important question here is, who are friends to each other? Because we soon find out that friends are really not strictly friends, they are enamoured with each other, dislike each other or resent one another.

Conversations are either real or virtual and almost all of life happens through these conversations in person or online. Having textual conversations it makes them real, it makes them evidence we can look up, check, have a check on reality, on what truly happened or did not happen. When we, as people, are not as reliable as we should be.

“Everyone’s always going through something, aren’t they? That’s life basically. It’s just more and more things to go through.”

Her relationship with Nick is an unusual one, she is always in control because there are no (or shouldn’t be any) feelings, there is no honesty, no definition of their relationship, they are both acting that they are relaxed together, acting nonchallancy and normality of their affair. They are both unsure of what is happening between them, but they both just can’t stay away, they can’t end it. There is a connection, it cannot be described or completely understood,but that is irrelevant, it is there and it has to stay there. They will always be drawn to each other. They will always be connected.

“If two people make each other happy then it’s working.”

There is no need to define and understand everything. Sometimes a connection just is and should be.

“Things and people moved around me, taking positions in obscure hierarchies, participating in systems I didn’t know about and never would. A complex network of objects and concepts. You like through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.”

To what extent do we even understand the relationships we are in? Why would understanding them make them more valuable. When she started her relationship with Nick she didn’t know what was happening, she just slid in, but the other time around she did know what it was going to be like. She was prepared for an unconventional, strange relationship, for an unusual love.

The lack of communication, real communication and the artificial one, is a constant problem between all the characters in the novel. The problem of gaining control and staying in control, of relationships, of emotions and of consequences. That what we most want is most impossible to achieve. There is no control, no plan, no security, just life that happens – to us.

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