Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed and observant. A student in Dublin and an aspiring writer, at night she performs spoken word with her best friend Bobbi, who used to be her girlfriend. When they are interviewed and then befriended by Melissa, a well-known journalist who is married to Nick, an actor, they enter a world of beautiful houses, raucous dinner parties and holidays in Provence, beginning a complex ménage-à-quatre. But when Frances and Nick get unexpectedly closer, the sharply witty and emotion-averse Frances is forced to honestly confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time.
Bobbi and I first met Melissa at a poetry night in town, where we were performing together. Melissa took our photograph outside, with Bobbi smoking and me self-consciously holding my left wrist in my right hand, as if I was afraid the wrist was going to get away from me.
It was a relationship, and also not a relationship. Each of our gestures felt spontaneous, and if from the outside we resembled a couple, that was an interesting coincidence for us. We developed a joke about it, which was meaningless to everyone including ourselves: what is a friend? we would say humorously. What is a conversation?
I’m going to get right out ahead of this to say I know. I know these are entitled, dislikable characters with no growth or development. I know that they’d be the worst people in the bar, the colleagues you’d avoid making eye contact with, the students you’d roll your eyes at when they raised their hand to answer a question. I know the mental illness and denial running rampant throughout the narrative are problematic, and if you’re going to take away a moral from this story, it should be the opposite of the one it gives.
But I don’t care.
I’m here for the rich leftist lesbian who is all talk and has too many opinions. I’m here for the depressed actor who gets off on being psychologically submissive to the women in his life. I’m here for the broke, unemployed college student with an aloof, mysterious outer shell and an inner vortex of insecurity, denial, and self-harm. I’m here for the weird medical fiction twist so out of left field that it felt like a different story was merging with this one. I’m here for the incestuous relationships, the inappropriate age gaps, the rambling emails, the stark conversations, and the lack of punctuation.
My ego had always been an issue. I knew that intellectual attainment was morally neutral at best, but when bad things happened to me I made myself feel better by thinking about how smart I was. When I couldn’t make friends as a child, I fantasised that I was smarter than all my teachers, smarter than any other student who had been in the school before, a genius hidden among normal people. It made me feel like a spy.
I’m only taking half a star off because at least 60 pages in there ran long in the tooth, and I was waiting for something to happen. But don’t worry; it comes back around wonderfully.
Was I kind to others? It was hard to nail down an answer. I worried that if I did turn out to have a personality, it would be one of the unkind ones. Did I only worry about this question because as a woman I felt required to put the needs of others before my own? Was ‘kindness’ just another term for submission in the face of conflict? These were the kind of things I wrote about in my diary as a teenager: as a feminist I have the right not to love anyone.
I honestly don’t know what it says about me that I enjoyed this dysfunctional, terrible narrative so much. But I’m embracing it, and I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.