Updated: Nov 22, 2021
The reviews have been mixed about Rooney's latest novel. She has been criticised for churning out the same old story, the same old people again, but seriously, when you've hit on a winning formula, why change tack when you have so fundamentally nailed it?! And just because she chooses to depict real people and their very real lives, without the vehicles of catastrophe and high drama, it doesn't mean that she is telling the same story. The reason Alice, Eileen, Simon and Felix feel so familiar to us is not because she has written them before but because they are so comprehensively drawn, so undeniably real that we can relate to everything they say and do. This is a story about best friends Alice and Eileen who communicate solely through email for the first half of the book and their respective male friends / lovers Felix and Simon. It is a roller coaster ride of relationships peaking and plummeting over insecurities and misconceptions rather than earth-shattering events. And every word is so perfectly placed, every conversation so masterfully real and yet loaded with simmering undercurrents that we come to both love and despair of these characters as much as we do our own friends and lovers. You can not help but wonder whether the celebrity novelist Alice is Rooney herself, having risen to such acclaim so young and so fast. And as a novelist having dreamt of climbing to such heights myself I had to swallow down the bitterness and envy to find empathy with Alice and her breakdown in the wake of stardom, but I did. So much so that I was incensed on her behalf by her final email to Eileen and the audacity of her fans to presume they knew whether her partner was good enough for her. It is these emails between Alice and Eileen that have proved to be the marmite of this book, dividing its readers between high praise and scepticism. And I admit to being somewhat frustrated by the unlikely philosophical nature of them at the beginning . The girls ruminate back and forth on class and religion and beauty and their letters feel like essays rather than chapters of a novel and they interrupt the flow of the story. I couldn't help thinking that Rooney, having climbed to such dizzy heights after her first two best-selling novels, was seizing the opportunity to deliver her own personal manifesto. But once I had got over that and actually listened to what the characters were saying I found it to be beautifully profound and insightful! And maybe the likes of Rooney and her highly intellectual friends do actually send each other philosophical rants about beauty and its place in the world?! And maybe they are all the better for it! And so, despite moments of doubt I came to the inevitable conclusion that Sally Rooney nailed it again. She is an inspiration and I intend to read this book over and over again to figure out how on earth she does it!!