I recently read Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends. It took me about a week to read, which is a great sign that I was at least interested in it. I can average about three to six weeks to read a book regardless of its quality. Naturally I followed it with her second novel Normal People, which of course has become well-known after the celebrated TV adaptation premiered this year (the one Paul Mescal should have won an Emmy for). I read Normal People in six days. Initially I was going to review the novels separately; however, since the novels were incredibly similar and I am starting to write Comparative Essays in English, I thought this might be a good chance to cover two pieces of material.
I will start with a summary of Conversations with Friends. It is set mostly in Dublin in presumably the 2010s although this is never expressly stated. The two main characters, Bobbi and Frances attend Trinity College and suburbs such as Monkstown are featured. The novel is told from Frances’ point of view with first-person narration as she describes the relationship she embarks on with Nick, a famous, married actor, all while she maintains her friendship with her ex-girlfriend, Bobbi. The novel serves essentially as an essay of the freedoms and complications involved in modern love.
Normal People, is mostly set in Sligo and Dublin between 2011 and 2015 and follows two very different people, the wealthy social outcast, Marianne and the working-class Connell, who is very popular and academically gifted as they embark on a relationship in Sixth Year and continue their acquaintance throughout college. The story is incredibly similar to the TV adaptation, with the biggest differences being the extra details that naturally exist in the novel. It serves as an essential coming-of-age story particularly for young Irish people, as the experiences of growing up in Ireland are perfectly captured in the novel.
There are many similarities between the two novels. They are both set in Dublin and both capture certain aspects of Irish life. The two novels are different in terms of narration, as Conversations with Friends uses first-person narration, while Normal People is told in the third-person. They are similar in that both books are relatively light on plot. They are both novels where the characters’ thoughts and conversations drive the narrative. They also both don’t have subplots or any scenes that don’t feature the main characters, which gives the novels a very personal and intimate feel.
If I were to say anything negative about Conversations with Friends is that some of the characters are a little bit pretentious and at-times unlikable. In Normal People, the characters can be quite immature and a little bit passive in an annoying sense. I would definitely recommend giving both novels a read, especially if you like realist, character-driven novels. I would give Conversations with Friends a 8/10, as it certainly is an enjoyable novel. I would rate Normal People a 9/10 as I find it a more relatable novel, especially when I think about my own experiences.
I look forward to returning to this topic when the adaptation of Conversations with Friends premieres.