Irish novelist Sally Rooney has been hailed as the voice of her generation — millennials, that is.
Wondering what all the fuss was about, I recently read her three novels: starting with the second, Normal People; then the first, Conversations Among Friends; and finally the most recent, Beautiful World Where Are You.
The books focus on the relationships of several sets of friends. In Normal People, for example, Marianne and Connell spend a lot of time having sex, or talking about having sex, or feeling anxious about having sex – either with each other or with someone else. They drift apart and back together several times.
Description of their sexual encounters is sometimes almost perfunctory, sometimes almost clinical in detail, as if automatons were pushing buttons on other automatons. Given all the sex being described, you might think that something interesting was going on, but the stories quickly become tiresome.
Maybe that’s part of the point. Despite some talk about class consciousness, desire for social acceptance and even search for religious meaning, the characters seem mostly unaware of the social milieu in which they flounder.
They want to be “normal people,” whatever those are. They yearn for what they’ve heard is a “beautiful world,” though they have no idea where it might be or how they can find it.
Rooney’s books have been dismissed as “slacker fiction” about people stuck in “horny malaise.” Those descriptions are a little harsh. But only a little.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that proper stories are about people who are changed by events and interactions with other people. Maybe in her next book, Rooney might allow one or two of her characters to wake up to their situation, take an honest look at themselves and take some faltering steps toward change.