Rooney has basically figured out the Adam Sandler of book gigs. This is a reference to how Adam Sandler seems to always make these movies where it is imperative that his character be in a tropical paradise, with a cast that includes his friends, in a time of year that’s convenient in terms of weather etc.
Over three books, one cannot help but notice how the main characters of her novels (disaffected, slightly over educated Irish literary/liberal arts types who could be described as “permanent grad students”) have aged over time, ending up at ages similar to her age while writing. Said differently, I think that Rooney uses her novels as a sort of literary escape mechanism, or elaborate what-if game, to see what life would be like under slightly different circumstances.
Nowhere is this more clearly laid out than in this novel, of course, which traces the dual paths of Alice and Eileen, best friends who could not be more obviously Rooney-as-is and Rooney-as-could-have-been. On similar paths in college, Alice has since written a number of successful novels (or maybe just one? Memory failing, need to write reviews sooner next time) despite the fact that everyone assumed it would be Eileen who would have done so (she, instead, is working at some sort of literary magazine, making peanuts). Their friendship is a bit fraught for a number of reasons—Alice has up and moved to a warehouse/farm in the middle of nowhere, for one—but they’re trying to stay in touch. The novel is broken up into chapters alternating between the perspectives of Alice and Eileen, with epistles in the middle that they write to one another.
A few thoughts I have, in slight bullet point form:
– As I sit and read The Pale King, which purports to be insights into the mundane nature of office work, I’m amused yet again by how some things get to be Serious Literature while other things are Women’s Fiction. You might not enjoy this book but Rooney understands the yearning, awkwardness, and discomfort of life for a certain subgroup of semi- to quite privileged western 30-somethings (Lena Dunham has popped into my head). Her writing is insightful, beautiful, at times reads like a non-fiction manual…your dislike of her isn’t a mark of bad quality, but of taste. That’s a nuance that’s not often afforded to female stories and female authors imo.
– After reading Normal People and being a bit fed up with the antics of early- to mid-20 somethings, I’m pleasantly surprised by how (mild spoiler) there’s actual resolution of the romantic and platonic subplots within the body of the novel, as opposed to at the very end (STILL saucy about that Marianne and Colin cop out). It actually seems quite realistic in that sense, that you don’t have the same patience for wishy washy nonsense. I know I don’t.
– lastly, I suppose I did find a bit of gimmick in the writing style which never quite went away—namely Rooney’s reluctance to use quotations to denote dialogue, in that chic old school French way of using just em dashes to denote a new conversational sentence. Everything is written almost as if by an omniscient third person narrator, so in that sense it does make some sense.
– as pointed out by Julia, who recommended that I read this soon, Rooney is also quite gifted in calling out minute details that ring very true and add a lot of verisimilitude to a scene
In conclusion, you will know soon after starting if you like this. If you don’t, don’t disparage the genre!