Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind–and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil–and Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh. But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect.As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi. Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances’s intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.
To start off, I want to disclose that I am from Dublin where this book was set. From the first page I couldn’t help but cringe at how un-Irish the characters were. Of course this takes place on the rich/well-off side of Dublin, but I’ve met enough people from that general area and I wouldn’t classify any of them as being like the characters in this book. Frances and her best friend/ex-lover Bobbi have such deep conversations every minute of everyday, neither of them switch off, I just got the sense that too much research went into these interactions. None of the characters are even likeable. I couldn’t empathise with Frances because she was too fake, apparently trying her best to keep people at a distance but just coming off as rude.
Bobbi I can safely say should be classed as the worst friend in the world. While Frances wasn’t my favourite (no one in the book was), Bobbi really treated her like dirt, even going so far as to physically shush her when Frances seemed finally ready to open up. Who honestly treats someone like that? And don’t get me started on Melissa and Nick, an artsy couple from Monkstown who sleep in separate beds and cheat on each other to keep their relationship interesting. Again, just fake.
One line that really annoyed me, and maybe it’s just because I’m not from the fancy side of Dublin, but at one point Frances’s mother tells her “it was a far cry from Monkstown that you were brought up”, and where was Frances brought up? Sandymount. Let me tell you that Sandymount is just as rich as Monkstown and practically next door to it. I get the impression that Rooney has never stepped outside the bubble of the Dublin 4 area other than to go to the airport.
Don’t get me wrong, Rooney is a fantastic writer, which is why I’m giving this book at least two stars, but the plot was just too unbelievable to be good, with characters who have jumped straight out of a philosophy book. If you’re not from Ireland and you read this book, please don’t assume that’s what we Dublin folk are like, because we’re not!