Sally Rooney's conversations on suppressed female hysteria: A review of the adaptation
"I felt a weird lack of self-recognition, and I realised that I couldn't visualise my own face or body at all. It was like someone had lifted the end of an invisible pencil and just gently erased my entire appearance."
Sally Rooney introduces in her debut novel, Conversations With Friends (Faber & Faber, 2017), our narrator Frances—a college student who writes poetry in her spare time and performs them at bars with her ex-girlfriend and now best friend, Bobbi, whom she met in college. Frances' home life is filled with despair and emptiness, with a single mother who can't comprehend her daughter's feelings and a father who has moved out and is unable to pick up after himself, let alone worry about Frances' well-being.
Frances and Bobbi meet Melissa, a published author, and her husband, Nick, a struggling actor, after one of their performances. Bobbi rapidly becomes infatuated with Melissa, finding her to be more interesting than her comparatively dull and shy husband. Frances, on the contrary, finds herself more at ease with Nick because of their shared inability to articulate themselves concisely. As more time passes, Frances and Nick begin an unlikely relationship that's already complicated due to secrecy and the involvement of other people's feelings; it is only made harder by their incompetence in understanding one another wholly.
Sally Rooney is well known for transforming her novels into visually pleasing and satisfactory adaptations. Her past success and numerous appraisals for the adaptation of Normal People (2020) had critics' expectations skyrocket when the news of Conversations with Friends being adapted to a TV show was announced. The majority of her audience, however, was disappointed with some of the actors' inefficacy in bringing the characters to life properly.
Conversations paints Frances to be a complicated woman struggling with a chronic illness while trying to unburden herself of the guilt of being the other woman. While I believe the actress that played Frances, Alison Oliver, did a tremendous job, the writers of the show seemed to fall short in illustrating Frances' convoluted and problematic mindset. There was negative feedback for the lack of proper and thorough storytelling, resulting in confusion over what the show was about—an issue that readers didn't have with the book, as Frances was a character well-loved by readers. The problem was that the novel's premise did not come through on screen.
Additionally, some unwelcome changes made the show tragically less dramatic than the text. The adaptation had grown sullen and boring. For instance, when Melissa is made aware of her husband's affair, she sends Frances a long and unsavoury email—one of the most anticipated parts of the book—that never comes to life on the show The same approach that had worked for the adaptation of Normal People failed here, mainly because the former is more dialogue-heavy while the latter is more about the uncommunicative characters disguising their true feelings and thoughts, which can only be depicted precisely with words on paper.
Despite several setbacks, however, the cinematography and setting of the adaptation are truly flawless with its nostalgia-ridden gloominess. Indeed, this was what had been pictured by many when reading the book.
Conversations with Friends is a gravitating and alluring story about a woman in her 20s facing complications while navigating relationships and setting boundaries, without her parents to look toward for help on account of their failed marriage. Sally Rooney is extremely astute in her observation of the human condition and her raw depiction of the uncertainty and surrealism felt in one's life when faced with gruelling consequences.
The show fails to measure up to this greatness; but regardless, it manages to be a worthwhile watch, mainly because the realism conveyed in the show fills viewers with a sense of fulfilment, despite the narrative being jarring at times.
Simran Morshed is a contributor. Find her on Instagram @s1mranmorsh6d.