When you read this review, don’t forget that Sally Rooney was born in 1991, meaning she is, as of now, only 27 years old, meaning that at the time she wrote this she was likely in her early to mid twenties. Read as the musings of a 20-something year-old, the book is somewhat impressive. As a harbinger of what Rooney is capable, well, she’s probably capable of a whole lot. Her writing is at times very beautiful. For example, the protagonist of the novel is lurking in her love interest’s home while he is not there and Rooney writes: “Standing in his house was like watching someone familiar smile at me, but with missing teeth”. Yaaas. So good.
But apart from bejewelled glimpses of what the author is capable, I mostly wanted to claw my eyes out while reading this book. I hated myself for making a resolution to read a book a week and internally, like Elaine on the stalled New York subway, I screamed “I hate you!” at the book’s pages. I hope Sally Rooney never reads this, and I’m sure she won’t, because that would make me feel bad. She’s got some writing chops for sure, but this book feels transparently juvenile. But hey, she’s the one writing novels and I’m the one reviewing them on a blog that is only read by my family and friends, so what do I know really?
I probably would have loved this book between the ages of 16-21. Sally Rooney’s writing is preternaturally good but god damn it if this isn’t a juvenile version of Fifty Shades of Grey when it comes to its premise. Frances, a 21-year-old virgin poetess, meets an independently wealthy and successful actor, only he’s not Hollywood superficial, in fact he’s a communist who only accepts money from his family to placate them, was a child genius, and stays up late at night reading about Middle eastern politics. He’s got as much personality as day-old toast, but critically, his main objective in life is to make sure Frances is satisfied. To top off the aforementioned unlikeliness, part of the novel takes place in a country house in France. where the rich actor and his wife have ingratiated themselves with an older rich benefactor who allows them to chill endlessly at her villa.
When I was 18, I used to go onto online message boards and support forums for mothers and pretend I had quadruplets named Donatella, Leonarda, Francesca and Gabriella. I told people that my husband was a movie director and that we lived in Italy. Eventually some woman told me I shouldn’t go around making things up and impersonating a mother on message boards that were created to support actual mothers.
Reading this book reminded me of how I used to enjoy playing make believe online. Fiction after all is fiction and who isn’t entitled to a little wish fulfillment? Right? But this novel was so profoundly untenable and lacking in insight that I am still annoyed to have devoted an entire week to its consumption. 2 limp pugtails hanging between the legs. (Still screaming internally).