Conversations with Friends showed up as a surprise in the post. A friend sent it to me.
Sally Rooney has won multiple literary awards. I’d read her second book, Normal People, earlier in the year, when everyone was talking about it. And while I recognised the writing as brilliant (and so crisp and well wrought, Rooney doesn’t even bother with quotation marks), I didn’t enjoy the book. I don’t enjoy stories about relationships, about love and affairs and divorce and grief. My favourite books generally have at least one murder in them, and no-one gets murdered in Conversations with Friends. Not to spoil it too much, but no-one even contemplates hiring an assassin.
The whole time I was reading it, I wondered what had made my friend choose this book, from the millions of books out there. Even though this book was very much not my kind of book, at the same time it was so well-written it was hard not to find things to appreciate on every page, turns of phrase and insights into the human condition. The main character has embarked on a writing career, and later on is diagnosed with a chronic illness. Many of Rooney’s observations rang true for me. I’ve listed some of my favourites here.
“I had started reading long interviews with famous writers and noticing how unlike them I was.” (Does every aspiring writer do this?)
“I feel like shit lately, she said … You think you’re the kind of person who can deal with something and then it happens and you realise you can’t.”
“Everyone’s always going through something, aren’t they? That’s life, basically. It’s just more and more things to go through.” (This seems especially true this year.)
“After that I put some cold water on my face and dried it, the same face I have always had, the one I would have until I died.”
“I wanted things for myself because I thought they existed.”
“I felt as if I’d glimpsed the possibility of an alternative life, the possibility of accumulating income just by writing and talking and taking an interest in things. By the time my story was accepted for publication, I even felt like I’d entered that world myself, like I’d folded my old life up behind me and put it away. I was ashamed at the idea that Bobbi might come into the sandwich shop and see for herself how deluded I had been.”
“I had the sense that something in my life had ended, my image of myself as a whole or normal person maybe. I realized my life would be full of mundane physical suffering, and that there was nothing special about it. Suffering wouldn’t make me special, and pretending not to suffer wouldn’t make me special. Talking about it, or even writing about it, would not transform the suffering into something useful. Nothing would.”
“Gradually the waiting began to feel less like waiting and more like simply what life was: the distracting tasks undertaken while the thing you are waiting for continues not to happen.”
Those last two quotes seem to sit inside me. Nothing makes my suffering useful, and often my life feels like filling time until I get well. I talk all the time about the things I will do when I’m well – running and hiking and dancing, working a normal eight-hour day. Sometimes I see people out for a run and I become so sad and resentful.
I hope the things you are waiting for happen for you. And in the meantime, I hope your friends post you books.