If I had conversations with friends about this book, I’d tell them this: I don’t understand the hype. I was expecting a good read but I was almost falling asleep over it. I bought it from Waterstones. They had a couple of tables at the front devoted to the Irish author Sally Rooney, so I thought she must be worth reading. She’s still in her twenties and has published two successful novels, which is a fantastic achievement, but it seems that her writing style is not for me. I have a library reservation on Normal People so there’ll be a second chance for me to like her.
The book follows the experiences of 21-year-old Frances, who’s studying in Dublin. She does spoken word performances with her best friend and former girlfriend Bobbi. The two of them become involved in the lives of a wealthy couple, photographer Melissa and her husband Nick, an actor. I would say the story is mainly about Frances’ affair with Nick, but it’s also about her obsession with Bobbi, her strained relationship with her separated parents, and lots of other things which are beneath the surface if I cared to think about it. This novel isn’t plot-driven, so it relies on our interest in the characters and the narrative style. Unfortunately I didn’t warm to these, which made reading the novel difficult.
My main problem with the book was the overdone realism. Every gesture is noted, the dialogue is tedious and without speech marks, characters and events are introduced but don’t contribute anything to the plot. It also seemed like an autobiographical novel, which I know that debuts often are. There was no sense of place at all. I need descriptions of places to help bring the story to life. I even forgot that the setting was Ireland until euros were mentioned. I’m puzzled as to why the critics adore the book. I’ve just looked at some reviews on Amazon (which, by the way, I rarely do when writing my own reviews) and only 39% of reviewers gave a 5 star rating. The next most popular rating was 1 star, so I’m clearly not the only reader who was underwhelmed and bored.