Ian Sansom

A choice of first novels | 3 August 2017

Promising first novels from Sally Rooney, Olivia Sudjic and Tor Udall are set in Dublin, New York and London respectively

Remember Douglas Coupland? Remember Tama Janowitz? Remember Lisa St Aubin de Terán? Banana Yoshimoto? Françoise Sagan? The voice of your generation? (If you’ve forgotten the voice of your generation, the brilliant Christopher Fowler’s forthcoming The Book of Forgotten Authors will provide you with the necessary reminder. The voice of my generation, as far as I’m able to recall, was a poet called Attila the Stockbroker, who we used to go and see perform in Harlow, and who did an excellent Peel session. Whatever the hell happened to Attila the Stockbroker?) Three new debut novels might all properly be acclaimed as representing the voice of their generation — though who knows, only time will tell. In years to come some old man at The Spectator may be asking, Hilary who? Colm Youwhat? That was Zadie with a z? But for now what’s for sure is how strange these millennials seem, and new.

First, Sally Rooney — who, it is noted significantly on the book jacket, since presumably it is significant, was born in 1991 — and Conversations with Friends, which is a brilliant, drifting, languorous sort of a book about brilliant, drifting, languorous Dubliners generally fretting about their lives and getting into all sorts of lovely emotional tangles.

Frances and Bobbi are friends at Trinity College, when they meet Melissa, an older, worldly-wise photographer, and her husband, Nick, who’s an actor. And guess what? Yep, Bobbi gets involved in a relationship with Melissa and Frances with Nick. Rooney has Frances narrate the book with a delightful dreamy insouciance that is at first rather irritating but then utterly beguiling. It reads indeed like a conversation with a friend:

We had sex, it was nice, and afterwards we lay there looking up at the ceiling. Air hauled itself into my lungs, I felt peaceful. Nick touched my hand and said: are you warm now? I’m warm, I said.

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