Like many, I bought into what Sally Rooney was selling here hook, line, and sinker. It’s not just because she tells quite a story in a beautiful way. It’s because, like few writers I’ve read, she engages in the subtleties and nuances of human emotion.
It’s hard writing any book but without question, there’s a higher degree of difficulty in telling the “how” of it. Romantic novels are familiar in structure: two lovers, frequently star-crossed, try to find peace amidst the many challenges. But to write on the minutiae of feelings, desires, class collisions, and to do so in a way that is consistently engaging with the reader is just a gift.
One could argue that while this has the trappings of a romance novel, it may be almost anti-romance. I don’t have enough knowledge of the genre to say this with any certainty. But if romance novels are largely about desire that cannot be fulfilled (until, inevitably, the rapturous conclusion, though whether or not this book has one, you’ll have to read on your own), this book is about desire that cannot be expressed. Or at least on the surface. It is perhaps more accurate to say this book is about why that desire cannot be expressed.
Some may take issue with the sadomasochism expressed in the book. I don’t travel in those fields enough to say whether or not it was handled well. I think it added a layer of depth to the character in question. Whether said depth is necessary is debatable. It didn’t bother me as much given what Rooney was trying to say about the character but you mileage may vary.
Without a doubt, one of the best books I read in 2022, if not the best.