Sally Rooney: In review


Illustration by Elie Flanagan

Ann Karneus , A&E Reporter

“He was unpredictable, but I didn’t cower in terror of him, and his attempts at manipulation, though heavy, were never effective. I wasn’t vulnerable to them. Emotionally, I saw myself as a smooth, hard little ball. He couldn’t get purchase on me. I just rolled away.” – “Mr. Salary”, 2016. 

Throughout Sally Rooney’s quickly growing body of work — like in the excerpt above from one of her short stories — her descriptions of emotions and relationships are imaginatively unconventional yet surprisingly accurate. At only 28 years old, the Irish author has already proven herself to be a master at inventing complex relationships, in part by capturing a stream of consciousness in incredible, first-person prose.  

Rooney has notably published two novels including “Conversations With Friends” (2017) and “Normal People” (2018). She explores a range of topics, from abusive family relationships revisited out of filial duty to fraught romantic relationships to unequal friendships.

Rooney has enjoyed a positive reception internationally — in 2017 she was awarded the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year — and on Whitman campus. 

Whitman sophomore Ella Nelson said she loved both books.

“My friend told me about them and I read both of them in a day,” Nelson said. 

Avid Rooney reader and Whitman junior Libby Hunt said she enjoyed Rooney’s fresh point of view.

“I think it’s cool that Sally Rooney is so young; not a lot of really popular authors are that young, so having that perspective is unique,” Hunt said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve read before.” 

But despite it being difficult to put the books down, Rooney’s narrators are curiously unlikeable. 

“I didn’t really like Frances [from “Conversations with Friends”] that much but that might only be because the book is from her point of view … which is brutally honest,” Hunt said.

We know these characters so well because their most intimate thought processes were copied onto a page. But rather than this perspective being humanizing, it’s alienating and sometimes repulsive. The narrators are so pretentious and apathetic at times that they become inaccessible. 

And that just might be the point.

In 2015, Rooney published an essay that is credited with launching her out of obscurity called “Even If You Beat Me” about her highly successful competitive debate career.

Even in the form of a personal essay, Peter Feehan, a senior English major, immediately picked up on her unlikable persona.

“It was remarkably pompous, but she was justified in writing it that like that, ” Feehan said. 

Therein lies the answer — Rooney has no reason to be humble and every reason to exist and write as pretentiously as she feels. Although her work left me feeling dissatisfied, her voice is valuable enough that I still crave more of it.

Illustration by Elie Flanagan