As I grow older, and the years fold and crease into one another, my life unspooling like old film from a canister, I find myself increasingly more aware of the fluid and ever-changing nature of perspective. What I am particularly intrigued by are the bounds of perspective and the social commentary that usually follows. Specifically, is there a limit to which characters or writers can comment on, given the perspective they carry?
Recently, I sat down to watch the on-screen adaptation of Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversations with Friends and found myself propelled into thinking about the delicacy of perspective. The limited series centres around Frances (Alison Oliver) and her ex-girlfriend, turned friend, Bobbi (Sasha Lane) who dive headfirst into a friendship with an older married couple. What follows is an entanglement of forbidden love and an exploration of marriage and friendship from the perspective of 21-year-old Frances. The series evokes a sense of realness and intimacy reminiscent of real life and is a trademark of Rooney’s writing style. The episodes simmer with sexual tension presented by forbidden touches and intellectual conversations between Frances and Nick, whilst Bobbi and Melissa embark on their own more explicit relationship. What strikes me about the show is not necessarily the scandalous affairs and tensions that unravel. Instead, it is the fact that Conversations with Friends is largely a commentary on marriage from the perspective of a 21-year-old white female. Viewers interpret early on that Frances is a seemingly self-absorbed young female who is unaware of her own actions, and is subsequently oblivious to how her role as the ‘other woman’ in a marriage would affect others involved. As Bobbi tells Frances, she holds so much power being a youthful white female, and for someone who prides herself on being an intellectual, it is somewhat frustrating that Frances has to be informed of this by Bobbi – who is a Black woman – instead of being able to acknowledge it herself. This lack of perspective reduces Frances’ complexity as a character and arguably leaves the show feeling one-dimensional.
This being said, Frances’ self-absorption is not necessarily the core problem. As a young woman in modern society, it is common to feel as though your problems are larger than others, caught in a bubble of anxiety with a lack of wisdom and experience to provide perspective. It is no secret that Rooney’s characters usually develop this way: infuriatingly self-absorbed. However, this is undoubtedly what attracts such a cult following to her works. Rooney writes characters who are fundamentally flawed, who make mistakes and are not typically ‘heroic’ or ‘special’ as most protagonists in novels are required to be. Relatable and human, her characters demonstrate to readers that there is validity in being flawed. Frances is flawed in many ways, mostly due to her age and subsequent naivety. Many readers would disagree with her actions, her mistreatment and ignorance of her friend Bobbi, and her relationship with Nick. Although the show makes it hard to hate the tender moments of vulnerability and sensuality shared between Nick and Frances, I can’t help but wonder what value there is in seeing this unfold from the eyes of 21-year-old Frances.
While Conversations with Friends is poignant and epically in touch with the vulnerability of being human, it is hard to deny that there is a certain discontent that lies in the knowledge that we are consuming a show about a young middle-class white woman who is upset about her role as a mistress, and equally as upset when her lover resumes having sex with his wife. Whilst Frances’ character depicts the naïve perspective mostly true of a young woman in her circumstances, what overshadows this is her reluctance to observe the people around her and how her actions are harming them. There is a power in self-awareness and kindness, both traits Frances seems to be lacking, and this exposes a lack of complexity in her character that subsequently leads to her perspective feeling like one that isn’t necessarily invited.
Of course, there are many aspects of this show and novel that are welcomed, and Conversations with Friends tackles issues that are necessary and topical such as love, heartbreak, fertility, endometriosis, and friendship. There is a poignant and vulnerable tone that underpins the series and leaves viewers yearning for more. Perspective is entirely unique to each individual person, and while I don’t resonate with the naïve perspective of a 21-year-old white woman commenting on a marriage she has chosen to disrupt, I do believe that there is immense value in Frances’ open, intellectual nature and her very real and valid navigation of an entirely intimidating landscape that many people in their 20s face.
Author: Chelsea Ryan is a third-year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. She writes to explore the complexities of human nature, whilst focusing on relationship dynamics. She explores her own thoughts and beliefs through creative writing and usually does this through fiction, however, is enjoying experimenting with memoir.
Artist: Anastasia Notaras is an emerging artist based in Brisbane. She is currently in her third year of a BFA in Drama at QUT. Her work has been published in ScratchThat Magazine and can be found on her Instagram @anastasianotaras. Her creative work is multidisciplinary as she delves into painting, collage, scriptwriting and performance.