Sally Rooney has a presence. I was reading Normal People in a café in Sydney last spring, and the waitress came bounding up to me, wanting to talk about the book. There I was: an American writer in Australia, talking about this young Irish novelist.
In this chaotic moment in time, whenever people want to talk about a writer of good, interesting fiction, it always gives me hope. Good fiction shows us how people live, how they feel and think, how they navigate the world. It gives a sense of lives lived.
Conversations With Friends and Normal People are such lived and lively books at the same time. There’s no preamble—right away, Rooney marinates us in the world of Frances and Bobbi, of Connell and Marianne. She makes us willing to follow them immediately. I love hearing that Rooney was this champion debater, because the novels are not polemics. They’re not trying to reach a point. When I started reading her, I was startled by how little description there was, but the starkness leaves room for impressions, for the reader to process everything.
Some writing can be intrusive, as if the writer is suggesting you don’t know enough to navigate her world on your own. But in her novels, Rooney lets her characters talk. Sometimes, because her writing is so spare but has such an effect, you wonder, What just happened there? With Rooney, I don’t mind not knowing. That’s art.
Wolitzer is a New York Times best-selling author