One of the most anticipated novels of the year doesn’t disappoint, delivering in large part what you expect it to deliver.
Alice is a novelist, a very successful novelist, who has struggled with some issues in recent times, and has now moved into a temporary home in a rural part of Ireland to take a break of sorts. She and her Dublin-based friend Eileen, write to one another a lot, filling each other in on their respective thoughts and love lives – Alice dating a local guy who works in a warehouse; Eileen having a slightly more complicated set-up with an ex- as well as an on/off relationship with a friend from when she and Alice were kids.
This isn’t a plot driven book – it meanders through their lives, as they discuss everything from politics to Linear B. The writing feels incredibly authentic – the characters all in their late-twenties and early-thirties, coming to terms with their lives.
You can’t help but think “Alice” is a very autobiographical character for Rooney. Her breakthrough novel has won awards and is being adapted into a film. As a result, she’s very comfortable financially, and her main commitments seem to be rushing around at the behest of her publishers to do interviews and press junkets for foreign editions of her book, or to pick awards she finds she has won.
But she is a character who feels separated from the rest of the world. She may crave a relationship, but she doesn’t seem like the sort of person who is willing to adjust her behaviours to accommodate others. There’s a coldness in the way she behaves and talks.
While this is a dialogue driven novel, you couldn’t honestly say that while the language is authentic, that the dialogue feels “real.” Some of Alice and Eileen’s emails feel like essays rather than message exchanges. But then I don’t think Rooney is trying to present complete verisimilitude with the words on the page here – it’s more about the ideas. But it definitely takes a very mannered perspective of the world.
I’ve previously read Normal People, and the tone absolutely is very similar here, as is the subject matter – 21st century relationships.
The book is immensely readable, and I enjoyed the time I spent with these characters, even if they didn’t always entirely resonate. Each of them is flawed – repeatedly destroying things that they have built, and then having to face the consequences.
I came away with a feeling – a kind of reflective glow – more than anything else, from spending time in their company.