The Sally Rooney Cinematic Universe

What to expect from two of Sally Rooney’s popular novels 

If your TikTok algorithm is anything like mine, then you’ve probably spent this last summer bombarded by Sally Rooney content. Even if you haven’t scrolled past videos about her novels and their adaptations on your “For You” page, you’ve probably at least heard of this author. You might think to yourself, “What’s the deal with Sally Rooney? Should I read her books? Should I watch the on-screen adaptations?” These are all questions I will attempt to answer.  

Sally Rooney has authored three full-length contemporary fiction novels. Her first one, Conversations With Friends, was published in 2017, Normal People was published in 2018, and her most recent novel, Beautiful World, Where are You, was published in the fall of 2021. 

Rooney’s mainstream fame began with Normal People which quickly became a bestseller. In 2020, it was adapted into a limited series starring Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. Due to the success of Normal People, more people began reading Conversations with Friends. This summer, a limited series adaptation was released, starring Joe Alwin, Alison Oliver, Jemima Kirke and Sasha Lane.

All of Rooney’s stories are set in Ireland, based on white characters who are primarily middle or upper class. In Conversations With Friends, the main character is said to be a communist. Although the character seems to allude to being poor, she lives in her flat rent free, goes on a lavish European vacation, and relies primarily on her father for money, as she doesn’t really work, but rather spends most of her time writing poetry. Although the characters, and Rooney herself, support leftist ideals, the support is shown through a very privileged lens. 

I’ve only read two of Rooney’s three works. Like many others, I started off reading Normal People. I purchased my copy in January 2021 because it was in the “recommended” section at Chapters and a friend of mine had told me about it beforehand. I decided to give it a try. At that point, I was in a bit of a reading slump, and only reading for school rather than for pleasure. 

Upon starting it, I was quickly captivated by the storyline. I had difficulty putting the book down. I finished reading it that day. Normal People is a romance that focuses on the interactions between two characters throughout high school and college. What I really enjoyed about the book was the way it focused on its storyline. There wasn’t much filler and I never questioned skipping chapters in an attempt to find the action because each moment was important and related to the main plot.  

When I hit another reading slump, I once again turned to Sally Rooney and purchased Conversations With Friends in the winter of 2022, almost a year after reading Normal People.  

I started reading the book immediately, but put it away for a while until I finally finished it in the summer. Unlike with Normal People, I was not very captivated by the characters, and I was definitely not interested in the love story. The content in Normal People is relatable to a broader audience; even if your life differs greatly from the ones featured in the story, you can probably relate to the emotions. Conversations With Friends depicts a much less conventional story, one that is more controversial, and therefore is relatable to a smaller group of people. I did not like the main character in Conversations With Friends, and I couldn’t relate to or sympathize with her. It was not a bad book, but there were other books I was more interested in at the time, which is why it took me so long to finish.

Rooney’s writing style feels quiet—each line resembles a whisper, which I think makes her work more intriguing. In both Conversations with Friends and Normal People, much of the story is internal, based on the main character’s reflections. The protagonists are always deeply introspective, which is something a reader may love but could also be annoying.  

All of this being said, if you’re interested in reading her work, I won’t deter you. My opinion is my opinion, and might differ drastically from yours. I probably will read Beautiful World, Where are You if I can find it at the library, but I likely won’t commit to purchasing it.

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