With the release of Hulu’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, I decided it was time to sit down and reread the novel before watching the series. What transpired was a reread of Rooney’s collection of novels, which includes Normal People and Beautiful World Where Are You. It’s common knowledge at this point, if you’re a reader of Sally Rooney, that she skillfully captures the millennial experience. Especially regarding intimacy and navigating a world built on capitalism. Now in full transparency, I’m for capitalism and do feel like having a mixed economy is beneficial for success. So, when reading all three of these novels in consecutive order I did find that aspect of her characters to be jarring. At times all her characters exude being self-indulgent and privileged, yet I still felt for them all. I could relate to them. And more importantly, I could learn from simply observing. What I also found jarring about the text itself was the lack of punctuation marks around dialogue. Is this an act of rebellion? Initially, I thought this was pure laziness being performed by writers of the millennial generation. I have since learned that authors such as James Joyce and William Faulkner also didn’t use punctuation marks, which leads me to believe it was due to being rebellious. After rereading Rooney’s collection, I decided to rank her novels from my absolute favorite to my least favorite. Now I do want to acknowledge that I have a love for each of them. They, in fact, have five-star ratings on Goodreads.
First published on July 11, 2017, Conversations with Friends is Rooney’s debut novel. The novel introduces us to Frances, who equally intrigued and infuriated me. I found her behavior and actions to be childish at times and confusing. I just wanted to tell her, “Say what you mean and mean what you say…” But that is the point of the whole story, and Rooney really captured what it’s like being a 21-year-old as they navigate relationships. I know that Bobbi is a favorite of most readers; however, I can’t say the same for myself. I was aggravated by her hypocritical behavior, her false sense of moral superiority, and her judgmental actions. I mean… If Melissa wanted to have an affair with her, she would have been 110% down with it. Nick and Melissa’s dynamics didn’t do much for me. I found them boring for the most part. Yet I dove in and consumed this read.
The second novel published in 2018 by Sally Rooney was Normal People, which follows Marianne and Connell from 2011 to 2015 as they navigate through an extremely toxic but highly addictive relationship. This was my second read of the novel, and I loved it just as much as I did the first time.
I’ve written about this reading experience before in the Kiss Me I’m Irish Book Tag: When thinking about a book with a GREEN cover, the first book that comes to mind is Sally Rooney’s Normal People, one of my favorite books. Funny enough, I initially didn’t want to read the book because of the polarizing commentary surrounding it. Especially regarding the lack of quotation marks establishing dialogue; however, once I started reading, I immediately became hooked on the relationship and dynamics of Marianne and Connell.
On May 26, 2021, I posted this to Instagram regarding the Normal People: “Before going into this novel, I heard so many discouraging things, which story of my life, made me hesitant to read it. Then I did and absolutely loved it. Granted, I am not a fan of Rooney’s writing structure; however, she worked magic on me, and I was absolutely gripped by Marianne and Connell’s relationship. In full transparency, I understood their relationship and characters because I’ve very much walked in their shoes regarding a toxic relationship like theirs.”
Beautiful World, Where Are You is Sally Rooney’s third novel introducing the world to Alice, a novelist living in rural Ireland, and her best friend, Eileen, who lives in Dublin. With the two characters living in separate locations, most of the novel is told in the epistolary format, as the two ladies spend most of the time corresponding with one another through email.
Like all of Rooney’s work, the characters have very unhealthy dynamics with one another and their significant others. Alice is seeing Felix, a man who works in a warehouse and isn’t used to the extravagant lifestyle that Alice is accustomed to. Out of Rooney’s collection of characters, Felix is probably my favorite. I like that he, too, is a queer character, and I would love to see that in more of her work.
While Beautiful World, Where Are You explores social class, friendship, and romance, the themes and writing structure of the novel felt more mature than Rooney’s previous works. Also, worth mentioning the novel’s namesake comes from Friedrich Schiller.
In conclusion, I found that rereading all three of these novels in consecutive order was beneficial for entertainment and allowed me to gain a new perspective on all three novels. In fact, if I had tried putting this list together before rereading the novels, the list would have been slightly altered. Now to the ranking. Coming in third place is Conversations with Friends. I really liked Conversations with Friends. I actually liked it more the second time I read it. However, I found that there is less of a connection with the characters in this novel than in the other two. Coming in second place is Beautiful World, Where Are You. As I said, Felix is probably my favorite character from Rooney’s stories. This includes her short stories as well. I liked that we had queer male representation in this novel and wish we had more, to be honest. And coming in the first place is Normal People. I’ve said this repeatedly; however, I’ll continue to say it. I understand Connell and Marianne’s situation because I, too, have been there. I have been in that very relationship where I loved and wanted to be loved but didn’t know how to express it and continued to go in circles. It’s honest and like a gut punch every time I read or watch the show on Hulu. Yet I’m addicted to every second of it.