Sally Rooney Novel Reviews

Sally Rooney is a thirty-one-year-old author and screenwriter from Castlebar, Ireland. She has written three novels thus far. From what I have gathered, her books seem to be most appreciated among younger audiences, especially those on social media. Her books have gained significant traction on Instagram and Tik Tok alike, and opinions on her work tend to vary. 

Rooney’s writing is the kind that you either hate or love. People who like Rooney rave about her, while those who aren’t a fan make that clear. I personally love her writing (after all, I am writing about her books), but also must admit there are some aspects of it I am not all that fond of. One such grievance I have is that she neglects the use of quotation marks in dialogue. To be completely honest, this made me stop reading one of her novels about thirty pages in; however, I ended up picking it up again and loving it. Her writing style is one you need to get used to, and once you’re able to recognize the conversations in her novels, despite the absence of quotation marks, you can get into it. Her writing style also has an air of being too pretentious, almost looking down on the reader in a sense of superiority

Her novels are all relatively similar, with each following at least one brunette millennial woman in crisis, whether it is one of romance or their past. Normal People is her most popular of the three, and tells the unfolding of the romance between Marianne and Connell. Both characters are intelligent and haunted, and their convoluted love affair reflects their complicated respective self-images. Conversations With Friends follows two college students, Frances and Bobbi, their involvement in the marriage of a slightly older married couple, and how it affects their relationship with each other and their work as a duo act of performing poets. Beautiful World, Where Are You? tells the story of a novelist named Alice, who is pursuing Felix (Alice’s love interest who she has some struggle to connect with because of their different means) and invites him to Rome. All the while, her best friend, Eileen, flirts with her old friend, Simon, after a bad breakup. The two women remain in contact via email, which reveal their inner thoughts they only dare say to one another. 

If you have not read any of her novels and plan to, consider stopping reading here to avoid any spoilers. If you do not plan on reading her work, or have already read everything by her, continue reading if you’d like. This is just your warning there will be some spoilers. 

Sally Rooney’s most popular book, Normal People, is about the unfolding of the relationship between Marianne and Connell. Each of them has something in their life that makes it so the relationship can never truly be perfect for either one of them. The story begins when they’re in high school, and the issue here is that Connell is popular while Marrianne is not. She is not well liked at her school and mistreated by Connell’s circle of friends, but behind closed doors, she has a relationship with Connell. A classic trope: the cool guy with the weird girl. They finish high school not on great terms, but then end up at the same college. There, the roles reverse, and Marianne is very cool and appreciated by her classmates, while Connell is reluctant and therefore doesn’t make many friends aside from his roommate. Eventually, the two reunite and rekindle their bond. At first it is platonic, but soon they begin a romantic relationship again. Their relationship is the on-again-off-again type of romance, and explores what it means to love when you have something in your way. For Marianne, the thing in her way is her extremely self-deprecating tendencies. For Connell, it is his anxiety that puts him in a place where he cannot love Marianne in the way he feels she deserves. Marianne does not care about his flaws and attempts to show how she loves him unconditionally, but Connell continues to keep his distance so as to not hurt Marianne. This book is a quick read and one that explores romance and relationships in a way I have never encountered before. It is a beautifully written book that I feel deserves its popularity, since it can be described as a familiar, relatable story that takes a stance on the nature of two young people. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes romance but can tire of recurring and predictable themes found in most romance novels. 

My personal favorite of her three novels is her 2017 debut novel, Conversations With Friends. I read it last year, and it was among my favorite books that I read in 2021. The main character, Frances, is still friends with her ex-girlfriend, Bobbi. They work together as performing poets and, at a performance, they meet a couple who are heavily involved in Dublin’s literary scene. It is soon revealed that Frances is attracted to the husband in this couple, Nick, an actor that never quite realized his true potential, and it turns out the attraction is mutual. Meanwhile, as their affair evolves, Bobbi and Nick’s wife, Melissa, take part in an affair of their own. The two affairs, on top of Frances’ and Bobbi’s past relationship, develop a messy dynamic between these four friends and make for some awkward encounters. Toward the end of the novel, after Frances and Nick end their affair at Nick’s request, Frances and Bobbi end up rekindling their romantic relationship after all the time they spent as friends. But when Nick calls for Frances, she ends up playing into her self-destructive tendencies, meets up with him, and blows off Bobbi. This was the ending approximately zero people were hoping for, and so her choice of getting with Nick makes for an unsatisfying ending. However, as frustrating as the ending is, it makes sense. Objectively, a young woman choosing the older, famous man, from whom she cannot necessarily learn all that much morally, is the easy choice. Despite the fact they seem like they’re going to commit to each other like they once had, Frances does not choose Bobbi because she is far too similar to Frances herself, and Bobbi knows too much about Frances. She challenges Frances in a way Nick cannot. Nick is the safe choice, despite the fact he is married and the toxicity of it all. I appreciate the rawness and realness this novel offers in a way I’ve never seen before in another story. The book is character-driven, despite the fact that the characters in this book are unlikeable. You can’t help but root for them. After all, you have to deal with their annoying personalities if you’re going to read this book. My favorite character is Bobbi, but I must admit some of her behavior can be irksome. She can be mean, oftentimes to a point of cruelty, but she is the most self-aware character in the novel. She doesn’t pretend to be a good person, meddling in a marriage and having an affair with someone’s wife. Frances acts as though she is not wrong for being with a married man, which is obnoxious, and Bobbi calls her out for it, which I appreciate. Overall, this book is short, clever, and, in my opinion, written in a style that the storyline calls for. 

Her third and most recent book, Beautiful World, Where Are You?, is, unfortunately, my least favorite. To be completely honest, this story was so forgettable I have very little to say about it in this article. Her other two novels have been ones I remember almost every detail of, but this one disappointed me in a way that pains me to admit. I could not even tell you the plot of it on my own, so here is a copy and pasted summary from GoodReads: “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 breakup and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.” This book was so forgettable, you could tell me something absurd about the storyline like they joined the circus, and I’d probably believe you. The only thing I do remember about this book was that Alice and Eillen stayed in touch by sending each other long, pretentious, and tiring emails that I hated every single word of. I really wanted to like this book. I appreciate her other work, but this novel was just so boring and surface level compared to her other two books. It lacks everything I loved about the other two. I like Rooney, I would even go as far as to say I am an avid defender of her since a lot of people dislike her style, but I cannot find it in myself to appreciate Beautiful World, Where are You?. I really do not recommend this book. Skip it if you must. I do like the cover though.

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