Conversations with Friends: Book vs. TV Show

I love doing post where I compare books and their adaptations, so welcome Conversations with Friends into the fold. This is the second time I’m doing this for a Sally Rooney story, so I might have a lot of … thoughts.

General Plot

College students and former lovers Frances and Bobbi get swept up in the (romantic) life of married couple Nick and Melissa. Can they find themselves and the relationships they seek or will it all end in sorrow?

CW: adultery, self-harm, depression, blood, endometriosis, mention of miscarriage, alcoholism (+for the show especially: graphic nude scenes)

Book

I have an odd relationship with Sally Rooney‘s books. I love their impact on me, but I don’t always enjoy the content. This time, knowing at least a little bit of what I would be getting into with her style of writing, I felt more prepared to face it all. Reading it was still emotionally taxing and I don’t think that this is a story that’s necessarily for everyone.

Generally, an entire book about adultery with somewhat unlikable characters isn’t exactly a tale with universal appeal. That fact alone has put some people off reading it and I can’t blame them. However, as I mentioned, I felt much more ready when I started Conversations with Friends and found it flowing easier than Normal People. It could potentially be connected to the fact that this was one continuous story from one sole POV, that of Frances, instead of something that spanned ages with multiple time jumps.

Even if one can overlook the theme of “adultery” though, which is fairly easy if you approach this as an exploration of what “commitment” can mean to any one person and whether open relationships might even be for the better at times, there’s still the issue of it being incredibly hard to root for the characters. We are “trapped” in Frances’ head and while I could see some relatable traits in her, she is extremely self-absorbed and doesn’t always cast the people in her life in the best light – despite idolizing quite a few of them. She completely misjudged the way she feels inside and how different the things that she conveys to the outside world are. I still don’t know what it is she really wants, because sometimes I doubt that she truly understands that her actions have an impact/consequenes.
A lot of what drove me, as a reader, nuts was the simple fact that every single person in this novel was terrible at communication. If they had just openly shared their emotions and concerns, a lot of trouble could have been prevented, but in the end, you can barely blame them? They feel human, real and authentic. There’s things I don’t want to talk about or where I feel like I don’t want to burden someone else with what I’m going through, there could be so many reasons.

Ultimately I know that reading a Sally Rooney book will always leave me with nervous tension and a tightness in my chest. It seems so simple, but there is so much complexity hidden in seemingly plain sentences. The emotions of everyone go so deep and are so layered, but like many people in real life, they struggle to express themselves correctly. Adding to that the fact that a Rooney book always has an open end, ready to be interpreted in a million different ways by each reader, you can’t help but have the story be a lingering companion long after the last page has been turned.

Rating: 4/5 stars! I cannot explain why I gave it such a high ranking, it’s mostly just the amount of inner turmoil Rooney causes in me.

Page count: 323
Publisher: Faber & Faber

*For more information on the book, head over to Goodreads or Storygraph!*

TV Show

Normal People was one of the most accurate adaptations I had ever experienced – be it in terms of story, dialogue or just sheer vibes – and Conversations with Friends is definitely up there in terms of faithfulness to the source material as well. Seen as the shows were helmed by a close to identical creative team, I know that expectations were really high, but also suspect that people were bound to be let down because of them.

I understand that people wanted it to be more Irish, but I thought that the different accents made sense in the context of the TV show. I personally was really happy with all the cast choices. Everyone looked the part, fit the age group and helped in creating the awkward tension that is so key to the production. (Also, Joe Alwyn’s voice is just divine. I could listen to him talk all day long.) These shows live off of vibes and I thought they were captured perfectly again, giving each interaction meaning and weight, even if it doesn’t go smoothly or the way you want it to at all.

Something I have to criticize though and that felt a bit hindering for my enjoyment was the pacing. While it has the same number of episodes as Normal People (12 in total) and only a run time of 30 minutes each, it felt incredibly slow. I ascribe that to the numerous exposition and silent, lingering shots on Frances. Yes, she is our main character and I could fill the silences with the inner monologue I remembered from the book almost word by word, but I only just read the book. Had it been longer, had I forgotten more of the details, these scenes would have often felt pointless.

In general, I noticed that I often filled in the meaning of certain interactions by remembering what Frances’ thoughts were in that moment in the book. While I think that a lot of scenes were softened and maybe even lightened a little bit because of that, I couldn’t help but wonder what my experience as a non-reader would have looked like. I feel like some of the vast complexity might have gone out the window and not translated to just the visuals.

They also completely missed the opportunity to have a cameo of Normal People‘s Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne on the show. In the book, there’s a friend of Frances and Bobbi called Marianne, who they meet up with to chat about her trip to Brooklyn. I just *know* in my heart that a lot of Normal People fans would have appreciated that nod to the previous show, even if it’s not confirmed that the books are connected.

Lastly, I feel like I should praise the music coordinator again. Some excellent choices once more and I’m not just saying that because they got Phoebe Bridgers to do a song (and she feels connected to the Rooney universe by dating Paul Mescal).

Conclusion

While Conversations with Friends didn’t stack up to the phenomenon that was the Normal People adaptation, I still don’t think there is a clear winner or loser. The two go hand in hand and each medium enriches the other.


Previous book to adaptation comparisons:


Have your read or watched Conversations with Friends yet? Let’s talk about that!

Normal People: Book vs. TV Show

Normal People has been all the rage when it first released with people binging it up and down. Since the book it’s based on is also a bestseller, I can only say I missed out on that hype as well. Late to the party, as I tend to be quite a lot sometimes, I really wanted to catch up on the phenomenon and indulged in both recently. So, what else would be the perfect subject for yet another book vs. TV show post?

General Plot

Connell and Marianne have known each other since school, running in different circles and yet finding an undeniable connection between them. Even when life takes them into separate directions, they find themselves gravitating towards each other continuously. Told through snapshots of specific moments and turning points in their lives, often with time jumps of several months in between them, you get to witness their unending love, their platonic and romantic entanglement.

TW: emotional, physical and sexual abuse, depression, suicide and suicidal ideation, anxiety/panic attacks (+for the show especially: graphic nude scenes, full frontal nudity)

Book

Normal PeopleI went into this book without any sort of expectation. I might have come across the trailer at that point, but I’m consuming so much media, I hardly remembered anything. I was a blank slate going into Normal People.

Reading it ended up being exhausting and frustrating and intimate and soul-crushing and strange. I was not ready for the harshness that the reality of the situations brought with them. In the beginning, I was too distracted by the format and lack of quotation marks (which I really, really missed) to realize just how deep this story was going to cut.

It’s rare that you find someone you click with on such a profound level. Connell and Marianne could be their best and their worst selves with each other and I found very little judgment that came with it. They were infuriatingly frustrating in that they lacked the communication skills to just tell the other person outright what they wanted, when all they seemed to need was each other, happy. A connection like that is nonetheless rare and even when they, once again, messed everything up with each other and hurt deeply, it was undeniable that they preferred to be in each other’s lives.

It’s a tough read, because it feels truthful and real in a frightening way. The situations were always portrayed as vulnerable and ugly, but also warm and hopeful in far fewer but still existing moments.

This book carves a hole into your soul and leaves you with an empty pit inside you. There’s simply nothing there afterwards and you want to fill it with something, but just like the characters have proven time and time again, it’s really difficult to find something that will actually make you feel better instead of just more miserable. I don’t know if this open end was genius or the final cruel gut punch. It leaves it up to the reader to interpret whether happiness is fleeting and we should appreciate the moments we get, or whether this is not the end. Not truly at least.

Fazit: 4/5 stars! The only reason I subtracted a star is because this book made me feel miserable in so many moments, but that’s a very personal reason.

Page Count: 290
Publisher: Faber & Faber

*click on the cover to get redirected to Goodreads*

TV Show

For those of you who know me, you are well aware that I watch a lot of shows and movies that have been adapted from books (sometimes even vice-versa), but this one truly hit me in an unexpected way. It’s rare to see something so flawlessly translate to the screen, where the vibe, the expressions, the dialogue, the atmosphere and the feeling remain exactly the same as I had felt them during my reading experience.

The casting of (at least to me) rather unknown Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones was a bold choice that paid of in its entirety. The show hinges on their talent a lot, but they were magnificent in their roles. Their performances felt authentic and raw, dragging you into the tumultuous emotional life of the characters even deeper. There was something so utterly intimate in the way they portrayed Connell and Marianne, I would have believed they were those people instead of acting if anyone had claimed it to be the case.

There’s a couple things that are hard to watch. All these moments exist in the book as well, but there is something so very different about imagining it and seeing it actually happen in front of you.

The only real difference I could spot was maybe Marianne’s mother. It’s not that she was necessarily a better person, but while I found her completely uncaring and cruel in the book, I thought she had glimpses of thought and care for her daughter on the show.

I must give great credit to the various directors of the episodes, editors and just all crew involved. Whoever did the score (actually let me look that up real quick to tell you) … it’s several people, but the score is comprised of mostly acoustic and instrumental tracks, with some covers here and there that fit the atmosphere perfectly. So, whoever did the song selection, you also did a phenomenal job! Everything about the show managed to convey emotions, be it in the framing of the shots, the music, the silences, the colors, the set design or looks interchanged between the actors. Everything felt intentional and there’s very few instances that don’t manage to hit home.

From the massive response the show has received, I can tell that there is a certain want or need for a second season. This sequel would be completely unrelated to the book, because it finishes the exact same way as the show has. Open, free to interpretation, mournful. I would be interested to see this end on a happier note, although I am not sure that’s what the story is destined to be. For now, the cast has said there is no definite talk of a continuation. Maybe that could change with the increased interest?

Until then, you can lust after Connell’s chain with me and the rest of the internet. I love how iconic it has become and that it has its own Instagram profile. Even more so do I love the fact that Paul Mescal is raffling off one of his chains for a good cause. You have until the 8th of June, 2020, to try your luck here. Paul chose a great organisation, Pieta, which provides free therapy to those engaging in self-harm, with suicidal ideation, or bereaved by suicide in Ireland.

Conclusion

There is no better or worse in this case. I have rarely encountered such a faithful adaptation that doesn’t just match the actual dialogue, but also manages to convey the exact same vibe of the story. While I do think that the book adds a bit of inner monologue that’s helpful in some scenes, and I’d therefore recommend reading it first, they are equally as good as the other.


Have you read Normal People? Have you watched it? Are you as obsessed with Connell’s chain? Let’s chat!