Book review and synopsis for Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, a modern romance about relationships and interpersonal dynamics.
SynopsisIn Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, two college friends living in Dublin, Frances and Bobbi, meet and befriend an intellectual, married couple in their thirties, Melissa and Nick. Frances feels an attraction towards Nick, which she comes to realize is mutual. Meanwhile, Melissa and Bobbi are drawn to each other. Over the course of the next few months, this tangled foursome navigates the complexities of modern romance, love, friendship and betrayal.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chapter SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of Conversations with FriendsQuick Plot Summary
In Part One, Frances and Bobbi, 21-year-old college students in Dublin, are a spoken-word poetry duo. At the beginning of the summer after their junior year, they befriend an older couple, Melissa (37) and Nick (32). Melissa is a semi-famous essayist/writer, and Nick is a handsome actor.
Frances's parents divorced when she was young, since her father was an abusive drunk, but he still gives Frances an allowance which she feels guilty taking. Frances also tends to self-harm when she is upset. Frances's mother encourages her to be forgiving of her father.
Bobbi is gay, Frances and Melissa are bisexual and Nick is straight. Frances and Bobbi previously dated for a year in high school, but are now platonic. Meanwhile, Melissa and Nick are going through a rough patch in their marriage and no longer sleeping together. As the duos spend time together, Frances and Nick develop an interest in one another, while Melissa and Bobbi are more drawn to each other.
Eventually, Frances and Nick begin an affair. (Nick mentions to Frances that he has never cheated before this, but Melissa has in the past.) When Nick soon goes out of town, Frances feels miserable without him, but she acts coldly towards him when she feels insecure. Meanwhile, Nick sends mixed messages. In August, Frances and Bobbi end up taking up an offer to vacation with Nick and Melissa at a villa in France. Frances and Nick resume their affair, but Nick admits he still loves his wife.
In Part Two, in late August, Frances and Bobbi return to Dublin. Bobbi needs housing and moves in with Frances. Meanwhile, Frances is dismayed to realize that she is in (unrequited) love with Nick, and she has sex with a random guy off Tinder. She immediately tells Nick, who accuses her of rubbing his face in it. She also asks Nick to hit her after they have sex, but he refuses.
When Frances has a bout of abdominal pain and bleeding, she is hospitalized and an ultrasound is scheduled. After a second bout and blackout, Bobbi and Nick take care of her. The next day, Nick tells Frances that he has confessed to Melissa about the affair, and Melissa knows they will continue seeing each other. However, Melissa tells Frances that Nick ultimately won't leave her (Melissa). She also says that Nick is someone who will say what you want to hear and is so passive that he wants a partner who will take all responsibility for his actions in relationships. Despite the revelation, the foursome remains friends. Nick also confides in Frances about how he was depressed and ended up in a psychiatric treatment facility the previous year, which is when his marriage started getting rocky and when Melissa began her own (now terminated) affair.
Around this time, Frances is broke because her father has neglected to deposit her allowance. Melissa's mentor, Valerie, hooks Frances up with the editor of a literary magazine who offers generous compensation to publish a story that Frances wrote about Bobbi (which is somewhat unflattering), which Frances neglects to tell Bobbi about. When Bobbi finds out, she is furious and moves out.
In early November, Frances gets an ultrasound, and the doctor says she has endometriosis, an incurable uterine disease that causes pain and possibly infertility. Nick also tells her that he and Melissa are sleeping together again. Soon, Nick and Frances break things off, and Frances purposely cuts herself, badly.
At the end of the month, after another bout of pain and fainting, Frances finds herself at a church, praying to God. Afterwards, she finally reaches out Bobbi to apologize. They have an honest conversation about their break-up. Bobbi tells Frances that Frances tries to convince herself that others don't care about her in order to justify treating people badly. Frances admits she still resents Bobbi for breaking her heart. The two end up sort-of getting back together and growing closer again.
The book ends with Nick accidentally dialing Frances's number a short while later. They talk about what went wrong and he says he always knew it wasn't going to "work out", but the conversation ends with Frances saying "come and get me", implying that they will ultimately resume their messy affair.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.