Top positive review
Deeply human and humane
20 September 2018
In my student days, I knew more than one Frances, cooler than everyone else, more intelligent, and slightly (or often very) intimidating. Then, years later you find out they were actually more messed up than everyone else.
Conversations with Friends is the story of four people and the shifting relationships between them. Frances and Bobbi are students in Dublin. Ex-lovers, they remain close friends and work the literary circuit as performance poets. Frances is introverted, a talented writer, while Bobbi is an extrovert, the more gifted performer. Melissa is a photographer who wants to profile the two young women. She invites them to a party at her home, where they meet her husband, Nick, completing the central quartet. Bobbi fancies Melissa, Frances is drawn to Nick.
As the story progresses, it shifts between Dublin and a holiday in France. Through the novel, each goes through ups and downs and the relationships between them are equally volatile. We also learn about their troubled pasts and present, especially Nick and Frances.
In a word, I thought it was terrific, absolutely terrific. I've read a number of more critical reviews and while I can appreciate a number (but not all) of the negative comments, I still think the book is terrific.
Is this a book in which none of the characters is pleasant? I would have to disagree with that. Frances is outwardly cold, snarky and aloof. But she is also insecure, damaged and sensitive. She might be difficult , but she isn't unlovable. There is one devastating scene near the end of the book where she is confronted by the difference between her own self image and the impression another character has of her.
It is true that this isn't a plot heavy book, but that isn't the point. This is primarily a book about relationships, and those relationships are superbly drawn. As the portrayal of friendship between two young women, that between Frances and Bobbi feels completely genuine and realistic. The sparks which fly between Nick and Frances generated by something between love and hate are thrilling.
The writing style is flat, functional, almost child like at times. Again, as the voice of this disengaged, alienated young woman that came across as completely authentic.
So, it a nutshell, this is a stunningly humane work about damaged, ambiguous, very human people.