In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

May 2018

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Sally Rooney’s first novel, Conversations With Friends, is a brilliant and slightly disconcerting novel about being young, and finding love. Frances and Bobbi were girlfriends at school. They are now studying at Trinity, Dublin—still friends who perform some spoken word, and occasionally live together.They both befriend a glamorous, youngish married couple, and Frances becomes involved with the husband, Nick. A familiar narrative perhaps—but written with such an authentic voice, it’s unusual. Pitfalls may lurk around every every corner, misfortune might drop with every wrong  decision, but somehow Frances, who narrates the story, navigates her way through it all—self aware, self conscious, and with a precocious intelligence. These are disturbing times, and also very fluid—this novel is about gender politics and social standing as much as anything else. Dublin makes a wonderful backdrop to the story, with a glittering  sojourn to the South of France, written with beguiling clarity.

I like fiction, and  biography, and I read cookbooks too, but the self-help book doesn’t really appeal to me—unless it’s about decluttering. Dolly Alderton’s Everything I know About Love is classified as a self-help book, but, really, I would call it a memoir. I’m very familiar with Dolly as I  listen to the High Low podcast that she co-hosts with Pandora Sykes every week—so I was curious about her book. She is certainly engaging to listen to, but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy her book as much as the podcast. However—It’s fabulous! It is an advice book—helpful to those in their twenties or younger. But as I am not, I found it to be a fascinating look at the (much) younger generation. The author is a party girl in her twenties—a very hard working, ambitious one, who has an impressive work history thus far. She didn’t particularly enjoy growing up, she longed to be a grown up. She writes very endearingly about the joy of paying her own bills and her rent, and positively revels in adult life. Amongst her many talents she clearly has one for friendship. This comes through loud and clear—particularly with her childhood friend Farley—a relationship that overarches this book in a wholly positive way. A memoir can be too revealing, and while some of Alderton’s can be toe-curling, she manages to maintain an intelligent discretion, even when she is describing some extraordinarily colourful details, particularly of nights out.

Julian Barnes’ unsettling new book The Only Story is also about growing up—set mainly in a very conservative village in England in the 1970s. Paul is just 19 when he meets and falls in love with Susan at the local tennis club. Susan is 48, unhappily married to the ghastly Gordon, with two daughters, and yet she seems as naïve as Paul. The story is told with such clarity and precision, such beautiful language and almost whimsical detail—it’s like being smacked with a velvet lined bat. The narrative voice moves from first person to second, and finally is told in the third person—a device that gives the reader a 360 degrees view of the whole story, and an immersive look at Paul—whether you like it or not. This is a devastating book—reminding you how one bad decision can affect so many people, for such a long time. Louise

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