Author: Sally Rooney Series: Standalone Genre: Contemporary Fiction Release Date: September 7, 2021 Book Length: 356 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Review: 3/5
Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?
I’m torn. On one hand, I thought this book was brilliant, but on the other, I so agree with all the 1 and 2 star reviews. I’ve never read a Sally Rooney before, but from what I gather, I think her work is something you either love, or do not resonate with at all. I find myself somewhere in the middle.
There is no real plot, no end game; it’s just ordinary people living their lives. At first, this confused me – I thought: What even is this book about? What is the point? I almost put it down because of those thoughts, but something else told me to keep going. Despite there never being a clear direction that this took, I found the writing too captivating to give up on. I felt like I didn’t like any of the characters, or really deeply care about them like I would have wanted to, yet I resonated with them. How Rooney managed to put their thoughts and feelings on paper to get me to care about otherwise bland, unlikeable, woe is me people, I do not know, but I was impressed. I like to read to escape reality, but these characters brought me back down to it as they were trying to find the meaning of existence in the 21st century.
I found the relationships in this book very fascinating. For example, Eileen and Simon were saying everything in code, speaking at length late-night about their fantasies involving each other. They could have easily made these things a reality, but they didn’t for the majority of the book – their actions were fleeting. I know it sounds incomprehensible, but sometimes the certainty of the fantasy is more enchanting than the potential finality of the reality. Even though I prefer to read as an escape, as a young person particularly, I found it amusing to see something so real like that play out in a book. Also, a lot of the lower star reviews mention that the sex scenes were awkward, which, funnily enough was the reason that I liked them. If you read the rest of it, you would realize that the sex scenes being awkward is more realistic for the tone of this book. Everything about these characters was flawed, so at least in my opinion, it would stand that intimate moments between the characters would be less than quintessential too.
Do I think this book is for everyone? Definitely not. I’m still not even convinced it was really and truly for me! But did I feel something undeniable about this writing? Absolutely. And that alone would get me to read another one of Rooney’s books.
Quotes I liked:
Every subsequent hour since I saw him has been worse than the last, or is it just that the pain I feel right now is so intense that it transcends my ability to reconstruct the pain I felt at the time? Presumably, remembered suffering never feels as bad as present suffering, even if it was a lot worse. We can’t remember how much worse it was, because remembering is weaker than experiencing.
It’s better to be deeply loved than widely liked.
What if it’s not only a small number of evil people who are out there, waiting for their bad deeds to be exposed – what if it’s all of us?
I feel so frightened of being hurt — not the suffering, which I know I can handle, but the indignity of suffering, the indignity of being open.