October 21, 2021

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Think Shopping & Women

A profile of the author in 28 articles from the Irish Times archive

18 min read
To mark the publication tomorrow of Beautiful World, Where Are You, Sally Rooney’s third novel, we chart the author’s career through her own words on writing, Jane Austen and Trump, plus interviews and reviews

Sally Rooney only recently turned 30, but she is already a literary sensation, the author of two bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, Conversations with Friends and Normal People.

As her keenly awaited third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, is published, we chart her career through her appearances in The Irish Times – in interviews about her novels, in reviews by her and of her work, and in her contributions to surveys of Irish writers on subjects as diverse as Jane Austen and Donald Trump.

Sally Rooney enters, stage right

Sally Rooney (far right) and Ellen Cahill with the artists Genevieve Murphy and John Kelly at Linenhall Arts Centre in 2000. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

May 5th, 2000
The author made her Irish Times debut in a photograph published as part of Out of the West, a column focused on the west of Ireland. Sally, who was nine, and another child are gazing at an exhibition at the Linenhall Arts Centre, in Castlebar, which was being run at the time by Sally’s mother.

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Sally Rooney is named a Trinity scholar

April 11th, 2011
Luke Cassidy wrote: “Screams of delight and rounds of applause rang out in Trinity College Dublin’s front square as provost Dr John Hegarty named this year’s scholars and fellows in front of a crowd of students, family members and well-wishers…

“Scholars are elected for showing “exceptional knowledge and understanding” of their subjects and are chosen on the basis of exam results from the Hilary term. The benefits of being elected a scholar include having course fees waived, being able to take rooms on campus and free meals in the college’s commons.”

During the same ceremony in which Rooney was named a scholar in English, Linda Doyle, now the provost of Trinity, was made a fellow in engineering and the playwright Thomas Kilroy received one of four honorary fellowships for his key role in shaping Irish theatre.

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Kevin Gildea reviews Sally Rooney in Winter Pages

December 2nd, 2015
“After Eleanor Left is a brilliant story by Sally Rooney about a girl called June who is in a sort of love triangle with a boy called Mitchell and the absent Eleanor of the title. In a wonderfully told story, with language that is unfussy and unadorned yet somehow also replete with a turn of phrase that makes it beautifully contemporary, June is a finely detailed, slightly clueless character whose vulnerability is comically yet delicately delineated in a robust, vivid world of youth.”

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Sally Rooney signs a big book deal

Sally Rooney at the launch of Belinda McKeon’s novel Tender at the Hodges Figgis bookshop in Dublin, with Michael Barton and Maggie Armstrong in June 2015. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Sally Rooney at the launch of Belinda McKeon’s novel Tender, with Michael Barton and Maggie Armstrong, in June 2015. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

September 15th, 2016
“Conversations with Friends, the debut novel by 25-year-old Irish writer Sally Rooney, described as a ‘startling, intimate’ story of high-risk relationships, youth and love, is to be published by Faber next June after it outbid six other publishers for the rights. It has also been sold to 11 international publishers.

“Publisher Mitzi Angel said: ‘To say Conversations with Friends is a delight does no justice to just how brainy it is. And to say Conversations with Friends is cerebral is potentially to mislead – because the book is so much fun. Sally Rooney’s cracklingly brilliant first novel addresses serious matters – politics, feminism, sex, love – with a lightness of touch. Through the rhythms of today’s speech and through instant messaging and email and text messages, it captures what it’s like to be figuring how to to live and to love in the early 21st century. Sally Rooney is a remarkable talent, and we’re thrilled to welcome her to Faber & Faber.’”

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Sally Rooney on Donald Trump’s election as US president

Sally Rooney in May 2017. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Sally Rooney in May 2017. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

January 20th, 2017
“Against the indignities of a failing economic system, fascism has form. In the United States’ current historical moment, white nostalgia for the era of the family wage, decent working conditions and strong unions seems to have mixed itself with a toxic nostalgia for segregation and sadistic racism. Drummed up together, these sentiments are powerful. The US Democratic Party’s loathsome failure to recognise the deep, simmering dissatisfaction of the electorate led them to run a historically unpopular candidate, a candidate who not only helped to engineer the hollowing-out of the welfare state, but who was under federal investigation during the campaign. Few could symbolise the political establishment more visibly than someone who has already lived in the White House for eight years.”

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Mr Salary, a short story by Sally Rooney

March 19th, 2017
Mr Salary was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG short story award

“Nathan was waiting with his hands in his pockets beside the silver Christmas tree in the arrivals lounge at Dublin airport. The new terminal was bright and polished, with a lot of escalators. I had just brushed my teeth in the airport bathroom. My suitcase was ugly and I was trying to carry it with a degree of irony. When Nathan saw me he asked: What is that, a joke suitcase?

“You look good, I said.

“He lifted the case out of my hand. I hope people don’t think this belongs to me now that I’m carrying it, he said. He was still wearing his work clothes, a very clean navy suit. Nobody would think the suitcase belonged to him, it was obvious. I was the one wearing black leggings with a hole in one knee, and I hadn’t washed my hair since I left Boston.”

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Sally Rooney on Conversations with Friends

Sally Rooney in May 2017. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Sally Rooney in May 2017. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

June 3rd, 2017
Ian Maleney wrote: “The tone of Frances’s writing leaks out into the book as a whole. This gives the entire story a lightness that, rather than obscuring the depth of the characters’ concerns, allows the abstract ideas that drive the book to emerge from the characters themselves, in their own voices. Rooney says this was the only way she knew how to handle them.

“‘It was like, imagine the voice you use when you’re emailing someone, a good friend who you like and aren’t afraid to express ideas with – that’s your voice,’ she says. ‘Because I live so much of my life through text, emailing people and instant-messaging people, to completely transform the way I express myself would have felt dishonest in some way. I can express all of these ideas with perfectly easy facility in my ordinary life, so why do I need to adopt some kind of tone that’s completely alien to me in order to express these ideas in fiction?’”

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Sarah Gilmartin reviews Conversations with Friends

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Conversations with Friends was Sally Rooney’s first novel

June 5th, 2017
“Frances’s acuity and obsessive need for authenticity recall literature’s most famous phony decrier, Holden Caulfield. Sally Rooney’s narrator has some years on Salinger’s, however, and her insights come from a more detached voice.

“The emotional intelligence and precision of Conversations with Friends delivers a dynamic debut novel about the messy, overlapping relationships between four captivating characters.”

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Sally Rooney on Jane Austen

July 18th, 2017
“Certain histories of the novel would have us believe that the form is essentially a masculine one, featuring an occasional female interloper, often disguised under a male pen-name. I find this version of history puzzling. To my mind, Jane Austen invented the English novel, and its true history begins with her.

“Austen is (I think) the earliest novelist in the English language still widely read today, and her style, narrative techniques and thematic concerns still strike the contemporary reader as fundamentally novel-ish. Interestingly for me, those concerns are insistently feminine: she wrote almost exclusively about the romantic lives of young women. This subject matter, much derided, is nonetheless the basic stuff of novel-writing. React against it, by all means; but it’s still the soil from which the English novel grew.

“Austen observed in fine detail the manners of a particular class at a particular time – still in many ways the primary task of the novelist. Observing the torturously complex social code necessary to maintain patriarchal rule, she mostly found it extremely funny – which it still is. Who can think about men and keep a straight face? Not me, and not Jane Austen.

“It’s worth remembering too that the Rev George Austen, Jane’s father, was at one point the trustee of a slave plantation in Antigua. As Edward Said observed in Culture & Imperialism, Austen’s Mansfield Park relies for the smooth movement of its plot on the exploitation of Caribbean labour by the family patriarch Sir Thomas.

“It’s impossible to imagine her novels without situating them in the nexus of the British empire; their intricate exchanges of power and wealth would simply fall away. With Austen begins a particular tradition of the English-language novel from which many of us are still trying to awake.”

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Sally Rooney reviews Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

September 3rd, 2017
“In times of political crisis, what is the novel for? Is it a fundamentally limited form, constrained in scale to its individual characters, or can it confront in some way the global nature of a crisis and its causes? These are important questions for a novelist, and questions that come to haunt Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel Go, Went, Gone (translated here by Susan Bernofsky). The novel, a meditation on the refugee crisis in contemporary Berlin, is a book that insists on the novel’s capacity to accommodate and dramatise real moral catastrophe.”

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Sally Rooney reviews Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

October 14th, 2017
“Far be it from me to denigrate the time-honoured method of introducing backstory after an opening scene, but the repetition can begin to feel limiting, as if Eugenides is impatient to get through the story’s superficial dramatic action and onto the good stuff, which all seems to have happened in the past. Maybe the novel, a more capacious form, suits this sensibility better. In Complainers, a character suffering from dementia observes that “nothing seems to happen, nothing in the present, anyway”. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it rang a bell.

“Eugenides is a talented prose writer, his dialogue is often a joy to read, and he’s gifted with a real understanding of psychology. Nonetheless, Fresh Complaint is an uneven collection, frustrating at times, and ultimately lacking the innovation and subtlety of the author’s novels.”

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On writing Conversations with Friends

Sally Rooney in Merrion Square in Dublin in July this year. Photograph: Ellius Grace/New York Times
Sally Rooney in Merrion Square in Dublin in July this year. Photograph: Ellius Grace/New York Times

November 6th, 2017
“I didn’t mean to write a novel. The idea for Conversations with Friends – two college students who befriend a married couple – struck me at first as a concept for a short story. I started to write it, under the title “Melissa”, and eventually it got too long. I continued writing it until it seemed to be finished, and at that point it was about novel-length. This was not a particularly intellectual way to approach the grand tradition of the English-language novel. I was so busy working out the particularities of my own plot and characters that I hadn’t really given much thought to what a novel was, what purpose it served, or why anyone should write or read one.

“There are good reasons to be sceptical of the novel as a form. As Marxist critics have long noted, it is a structurally and historically bourgeois genre.”

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Gavin Corbett on Sally Rooney

November 10th, 2017
“I wonder if Sally’s fiction and poetry is an exercise in flexing that part of her brain the debater Sally purposefully blanked out – the scanner that would rather take things at its own pace, that would measure every word, that is inclined to interject, that maybe isn’t so sure, that wants to push forward on its own in the dark. ‘Exercise’ is too dry a word, though. We certainly get, in Conversations with Friends, in Sally’s sentences, in Frances’s thoughts, those expertly wrought steady-yet-brittle sentences, but we get, in whole, so much more. We get the lives of these characters, fully exposed.”

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Sally Rooney talks to Michael Nolan

Sally Rooney at the Hay Festival in May 2017. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty
Sally Rooney at the Hay Festival in May 2017. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty

November 13th, 2017
“It’s so difficult to be conscious of a development of a style. You find yourself writing in a certain style, and the analysis of how you came to it can only ever be applied retroactively. You’re never conscious of why you’re producing it. It probably did come from the kind of books I was attracted to reading. It’s funny, though. On the one hand it’s that kind of spare prose that you could say is Hemingway-onward. The pared-back sentences. And I do like that midcentury American prose style. But then the other element of style is that hyperaware, culturally switched-on thing. I guess that comes from contemporary writers like Ben Lerner.”

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Gill Moore on Conversations with Friends

November 22nd, 2017
“Conversations with Friends is not just an achievement for its aesthetic prowess. It is also important for what it contributes to our contemporary moment in fiction, and especially to the contexts of millennial “new adult” literature, and women’s fictionalised life-writing. The novel is formally fairly conventional – it tells a story-shaped story, and fits loosely into the adultery-novel category – and it is indebted to fiction through the ages, drawing richly from the social fabrics of Jane Austen and George Eliot, the succinctly sensual language of James Salter, and the structures of too many bildungsromans to name. Yet Conversations with Friends also uniquely participates in interlinked cultural conversations and traditions closer to our present state.”

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Sally Rooney podcast with Laura Slattery

November 30th, 2017
“In this podcast, Rooney explores how she developed the distinctive tone of Conversations with Friends through dialogue, why people sometimes think she is Frances and Frances is her, and how she writes in concentrated, intense periods. She also gives us some hints about her recently submitted and much-anticipated second novel.”

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Sally Rooney on Normal People

Sally Rooney with Anna Burns at the An Post Irish Book Awards in 2018. Photograph: Helena Mulkerns
Sally Rooney with Anna Burns at the An Post Irish Book Awards in 2018. Photograph: Helena Mulkerns

August 25th, 2018
Catherine Conroy wrote: “Rooney began writing Normal People before the publication of Conversations with Friends, so she wasn’t too concerned about revisiting the college setting of her first novel. ‘I hadn’t had all that much experience of adult life that wasn’t in Trinity, so it felt like that was the only thing that I knew how to write about.’

Normal People, however, brings a greater scrutiny to bear on the college’s elitism. “I was interested [in] coming from one social setting into a completely different one, and having to find your feet. It wasn’t that I was thinking, Oh, now I’m going to write about how Trinity has an elitist private-school culture. It was nothing on that level to consciously make a point.’

In a 2017 interview with Lit Hub, Rooney said that she found Trinity ‘glamorous’ and ‘politically repulsive’. Coming from a comfortable but normal background in Castlebar, it was her first glimpse at how Ireland was run by ‘a community of the elite that I wanted to be part of but almost only so that I could then turn around and reject it’.

‘You meet people, and their fathers are actually government ministers or actually High Court judges, and you’re, like, oh, okay, normal,’ she says now. ‘You just don’t get that in Castlebar. In fairness, Enda Kenny is actually from Castlebar, but other than that!’”

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Anne Enright reviews Normal People

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People was Sally Rooney’s second novel

September 1st, 2018
“Lord be with the days when the job of the critic, especially the Irish critic, was to reassure everyone that a recently successful writer was no good, which is to say not as good as Proust. It is time to take a sharp inhale, people. After the success of Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney has produced a second novel, Normal People, which will be just as successful as it deserves to be: it is superb.”

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Sally Rooney talks to Claire Armitstead

December 4th, 2018
“I certainly never intended to speak for anyone other than myself. Even myself I find it difficult to speak for. My books may well fail as artistic endeavours, but I don’t want them to fail for failing to speak for a generation for which I never intended to speak in the first place.”

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Molly Hennigan on Normal People

December 17th, 2018
“I think there is a modern-day heroine in the character of Marianne for young female readers. I believe her reverence for power in dialogue makes sense to the young female Irish reader. Physical submission and inability to retaliate or defend oneself in scenarios of physical danger condition the young woman to equip herself with a sharpness of tongue and polished intellect that prevent difficult interactions from developing to that point. Marianne does this from a position of power and authority which, while being staunch and defiant, is self-minding and vigilant.”

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Are Sally Rooney’s heroines too skinny?

September 18th, 2019
In an opinion piece that generated a lot of controversy, Finn McRedmond wrote: “‘She hasn’t eaten breakfast or lunch today … her appetite is small this summer,’ Rooney writes of Marianne. This isn’t a one-off description – it’s a common observation Rooney makes about her characters. The women protagonists in her books seem excessively thin, and often starving.

“Is it a problem that these wildly popular and accessible novels seem to glorify unhealthy eating habits, and link desirability or beauty with the characters’ tiny frames? It certainly wouldn’t be a first for novels about young women.”

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Sally Rooney on the TV adaptation of Normal People

April 25th, 2020
Sally Rooney told Una Mullally: “As a writer of a novel, everything has to go on the page, whereas as the writer of a script I had to learn: this is one building block in the storytelling, it is not the full story, and you have to trust that the director and the director of photography and the actors and everyone involved – lighting, hair and make-up – are all going to be adding tiles that will eventually build the mosaic of the story.”

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Mary Hannigan reviews the TV adaptation of Normal People

Daisy Edgar-Jones, who plays Marianne, during filming of the TV adaption of Normal People. Photograph: Enda Bowe/Element/BBC
Daisy Edgar-Jones, who plays Marianne, during filming of the TV adaption of Normal People. Photograph: Enda Bowe/Element/BBC

April 27th, 2020
“You would think, when it comes to choosing novels for adaptation to the big or small screen, the less perilous route for any director to take would be to select an obscure work that never came close to troubling a bestseller’s list.

“Opting to adapt one as successful and lauded as Sally Rooney’s second novel might seem a little hazardous, foolhardy even, when its army of devotees have already imagined their own adaptations – and don’t want them messed with.

“Then again, Lenny Abrahamson didn’t shy away from the challenge of adapting Emma Donoghue’s bestseller Room, which went on to Oscar nominations and a best-actress Academy Award for its star, Brie Larson.”

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Seán Hewitt on Sally Rooney’s poetry

June 3rd, 2020
“The novelist began her career as a poet, and published 10 poems over five years in the Stinging Fly, the literary journal she would later edit, in 2018. Of course, few people would welcome a critical eye on their juvenilia, and Rooney was under 25 when these poems appeared. The way they relate to intimacy, to the possibilities of love and communicating love, however, mean that they offer a revealing insight into the genesis of Rooney’s fiction, and how she has adapted across literary forms.

“One of Rooney’s most remarked-upon devices is the epistle: her novels (in a curiously 19th-century way) are full of messages – emails rather than letters – in which things are both said and unsaid, and the mind-life of her characters (and their self-presentation) is on full display for the reader. The forms of Rooney’s poetry are, in fact, essentially epistolary, and show the deep influence of poetic form on her novels.”

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A New Yorker preview of Beautiful World, Where Are You

July 6th, 2021
“In my non-working life, I play a little bit of chess (very poorly), and the phase of play that I like best is the middle game, after the formal opening is out of the way, when the idea of the game starts to clarify. As a novelist, I think I aim to sustain that middle-game feeling throughout the work – to begin in medias res, and to close with a certain sense of incompleteness, as if the characters are simply going on with their lives off the page … At the same time, I do want my novels and stories to illustrate some significant period of change for the protagonists.”

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Extract from Beautiful World, Where Are You

Sally Rooney in Merrion Square in Dublin in July this year. Photograph: Ellius Grace/New York Times
Sally Rooney in Merrion Square in Dublin in July this year. Photograph: Ellius Grace/New York Times

August 28th, 2021
“A woman sat in a hotel bar, watching the door. Her appearance was neat and tidy: white blouse, fair hair tucked behind her ears. She glanced at the screen of her phone, on which was displayed a messaging interface, and then looked back at the door again. It was late March, the bar was quiet, and outside the window to her right the sun was beginning to set over the Atlantic. It was four minutes past seven, and then five, six minutes past. Briefly and with no perceptible interest she examined her fingernails. At eight minutes past seven, a man entered through the door. He was slight and dark-haired, with a narrow face. He looked around, scanning the faces of the other patrons, and then took his phone out and checked the screen. The woman at the window noticed him but, beyond watching him, made no additional effort to catch his attention. They appeared to be about the same age, in their late twenties or early thirties. She let him stand there until he saw her and came over.”

Read the full extract here

Fintan O’Toole reviews Beautiful World, Where Are You

Beautiful World, Where Are You is Sally Rooney’s third novel

September 2nd, 2021
“Sally Rooney is regarded, not without reason, as the novelist who best expresses the lives of those born into the western middle class in the 1990s. But she has written, in Beautiful World, Where Are You, a 19th-century novel. It is, paradoxically, a bold choice. Nothing, for her, could be less safe.

“Her title comes from a Friedrich Schiller poem set to music by Franz Schubert in 1819. The novel itself refers back to Leo Tolstoy in the way it combines the small world of love and intimacy with the large one of politics and ideas, putting the extremely private side by side with the very public.”

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Sally Rooney tells Róisín Ingle about Beautiful World, Where Are You

September 4th, 2021
“‘I think what my imagination is good at, if it’s good at anything, is coming up with psychological realities,’ says Rooney, who is a former editor and now director of the Stinging Fly literary magazine. ‘But what I’m not good at coming up with from scratch is an actual world, like jobs, houses, class, social circles … The material reality of the characters has to be kind of grounded in stuff that I actually know. It’s the same reason that all my characters are Irish. I’m Irish. I live in Ireland. Most of my friends are Irish. I feel more grounded in that reality … I am not attempting to disguise it. I absolutely talk about a lot of the stuff that comes directly from my own life,’ but, she adds, ‘that doesn’t mean the way the characters feel about those things is the same.’”

Read the original article here

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney, is published by Faber & Faber

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