Today’s recommendation is a two in one, or rather simply, I’m recommending an author. Sally Rooney is a budding Irish author who published her debut Conversations with Friends in 2017 at the rather intimidating age of 26. It was a huge success and her second novel Normal People followed a year later. Both are, in my opinion, spectacular must reads.
Having ambiguously and irregularly heard of her, I only recently delved into her writing in the last month or two and I was hugely but pleasantly addicted to her style of writing and the content itself.
I haphazardly downloaded the sample of Normal People on one idle day, before a longish metro ride. An hour later I found myself desperately connecting to an arbitrary McDonalds Wi-Fi just to buy the full version of the book, I was completely hooked.
Both books are similar in the outset, both set in Ireland following the development of the main characters during university in Dublin, their relationships and the common but complex struggles they face.
I find her writing confronting but simultaneously addictive and enthralling. The flow of these books created a rocky yet smooth transition moving through the phases in the life of these characters, much like life itself, making the book impossible to put down.
“You can love more than one person, she said. That’s arguable. Why is it any different from having more than one friend? You’re friends with me and you also have other friends, does that mean you don’t really value me? I don’t have other friends, I said.” – Conversations with Friends
Her break down of relationships, life, even her style of prose against the backdrop of the infamously rigid and conventional Irish landscape is unique and honest. Rooney’s prose, as I mentioned above, were initially provoking to read. Her lack of punctuation around conversation, without any quotation marks, makes the thoughts of the characters and their conversations blend together as one as if to signify that thoughts and narratives shouldn’t be separated because they ultimately exist codependently.
Multiple themes run rife and interact in her writing; relationships both friendly and romantic, existentialism, family life, class, religion, feminism, suffering and the profound effect we have on others, and that which they have on us.
“It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.” – Normal People
Unsurprisingly the fact that these books were written by an Irish person with an Irish setting had a huge impact on me. Not because I’m Irish and it’s home, but because it gives people an insight into any conservativism and controversy remaining in Ireland.
The distinct and open perception of these characters was imperative as though to reject traditionally secluded and isolating traits associated with Ireland. Unlike other Irish authors, I very often forgot the setting of these books and that was the beauty of it. Apart from the occasional town or street name, the story was rooted and unrooted in Irishness, carefully touching on relevant issues in Ireland, but with the results of resonating with a much wider audience. The books are both timeless and relevant, national and international.
She perfectly weaves magnificent descriptions with her perceptions and ideas leaving full formed and detailed views, but somehow graciously simplified.
“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 live through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.” – Normal People
Rooney perfectly creates relatable characters, characters we can all identify with in some way, making us feel completely familiar and connected with them. Then she turns this around to created something perhaps unexpected, but still human, understandable and normal.
When reading it, I felt projected into the story, the setting, and was filled with any feelings of despair or ease or lightness to mirror that of the characters. To me, this is a gift and a rarity and made me consume both books within a couple of days.
I think Rooneys writing is so important and relevant, especially as Ireland and everywhere, is on the cusp of change and revolution. She takes such simple ideas, settings, and people and makes them important and extraordinary.
I consider her writing all-important but be prepared to get very attached and engrossed rather speedily. If you’ve already read these, then try read her two short stories Colour and Light which was published in The New Yorker (March 18, 2019) and Mr Salary which you can find in The Irish Times (March 19, 2017) which are both exquisitely well written, and very similar to her books.