Between this and Normal People, Sally Rooney really excels in the small spaces. They’re just stories about people, removed even from extraordinary circumstances. The background isn’t war or conflict or some other extraordinary event, the background is just life. The cynic in me wonders if this isn’t because Rooney is so young that small stories about young people are what’s currently in her wheelhouse, but even if that is the case, very few young authors could tell these stories with half the care and depth that she can. It really is delightful.
University student Frances is best described as “existing”. She approaches everything with a cool detachment from her writing to her best friend-ship with her ex-girlfriend Bobbi. The two of them perform spoken-word poetry together (written entirely by Frances) and catch the eye of a professional photographer named Melissa who would like to do a feature on them. They are gradually drawn into Melissa’s life – Bobbi more enthusiastically than Frances – but soon enough the whole thing is incredible tangled even as Frances seems to take a backseat to her own life.
Frances feels so much like a blank slate narrator. She doesn’t so much have self-defined personality traits as she has traits attributed to her by others. It’s a different way of establishing a character and one that works in the tone of this novel. It doesn’t feel like Rooney is trying to tell some Great Truth, she’s trying to tell a story and maybe she cares a little bit if you like it. As feels kind of common in this kind of small story, things come to a bit of a head towards the end, but in a way that feels like a natural conclusion and totally in-keeping with who these people have told us they are. It was a really good book.