This is the first novel of Irish novelist Sally Rooney who was nominated for the Booker Prize last summer. I haven’t read that novel, but I likely will sometime this summer. But this novel stands out primarily because of the author’s age–she was 25 or so when this was published. Normally, I wouldn’t care that much as age sometimes means something and sometimes doesn’t, but you couldn’t read a thing about this novel or her second one without her age being a primary focus of the review or attention. She’s generally credited with being a voice for Generation Z, and I feel like I agree with this in a lot of ways, feel like hopefully she shifts some of the things that mark this, and also wonder the choice to be so.
This novel will sound a lot like a lot of other novels of a certain type: college student who tries to make sense of her place in the world and with her friends has an affair with an older man and thinks and feels a lot about it.That’s a pretty ripe territory in general with Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan or the in-text novel written by Lenu in The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante.
So the biggest distinguishing mark in this book is the voice, which feels fresh and interesting. It’s a very young voice who is conscientious of her place in the world and is actively trying to place herself in a modern world of privilege, in her own intelligence, in her own emotional being, and in interrogating her ethics. It sounds like a LOT of online conversations in intersectional feminist spaces.
My issue with the novel is two-fold: one, it’s a novel that is crying out for some irony, of which there’s little. And two, there’s a lot of talking about certain books being read without really deciding what those mean and how they fit in here. It’s reading without reckoning, and I didn’t buy it.