We welcomed in 2019 with an Irish writer.
Our January pick was Sally Rooney’s debut novel ‘Conversations with Friends’. This Mayo writer has quickly gathered a strong fan base and recently won several awards for her second novel ‘Normal People’ including the Costa Book Award this month.
She has been dubbed the ‘Salinger for the Snapchat generation’ by her editor at Faber & Faber and The New Yorker has described her as the ‘first great millennial novelist for her stories of love and late capitalism’. The attention she has garnered has been swift and intense, a little like her own writing style perhaps.
Rooney has herself declared that she never intended to be the mouthpiece of a generation, she simply writes about what she knows, ‘my novels are all about my cohort.’
Conversations with Friends follows the lives of two young 20-something year old women, university students in Dublin. A former couple in secondary school, Frances and Bobbi remain close friends and they perform spoken word together, enjoying the creative and expressive opportunity it affords them. Their work comes to the attention of Melissa, who wants to write about them for a magazine, and Nick her actor husband. Their lives become entangled when Frances and Nick embark on an affair.
Frances is vulnerable despite her cool demeanour. Her sense of self is blurred, and she's searching for worth in ways that don’t always make sense to herself or the reader. Her relationship with her father is strained at best and seems to function at a financial level for the most part. Her mother is barely present and her only real friend seems to be Bobbi, who is a natural fit wherever she goes unlike Frances. Enter Nick ‘a grown up’ in Frances’ eyes, who is unhappy in his marriage and seeks reassurance elsewhere.
These characters play around with the notion of love but don’t deliver. In fact, there seems to be a lot of playing around (even with the idea of self-harm). As a result of the seeming insincerity of it all, I can’t say that I warmed to any of the characters- maybe that was the point. Undeniably, Rooney is more than capable of observing and communicating human behaviour in all its glory. I really did admire her ability to catch a character’s subconscious traits. She creates wonderfully awkward atmospheres that many critics have described as ‘sharp and funny’ but I couldn’t see the humour in any of the situations the characters found themselves in myself. It was an easy read and certainly thought provoking as it featured characters who I had never read about before. But when I finished the book, I didn’t really care about them; they were still playing around.
Our February pick is ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris.
It is based on the real-life story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, whose job in the infamous concentration camp was to tattoo identification numbers onto the arms of his fellow prisoners, a job that allowed certain ‘privileges’ within the horror of that world. I've had the experience of visiting Auschwitz, of walking through a gas chamber, of passing under the gate that was entitled ‘Arbeit macht frei’ and it’s always nearly unimaginable to think how survival was at all possible.
Both books are available in Books@One along with a whole host of other titles.