Sally Rooney

1991- ; b. 20 Feb. 1991; Castlebar, Co. Mayo; dg. of RTE executive and middle of three children; her mother runs an Arts Centre; Ed. TCD (English BA Mod.); elected Schol., 2011; commenced PhD and completed MA in American Literature, 2013; became top debater after several rounds in the European Union Debating Competition, 2013; wrote an essay on her experience as ‘Even if you beat me’ (Dublin Review, Spring 2015) - shown to to Tracy Bohan at Wylie [lit. agency] who sought more of her work; after some hesitation she supplied the MS of Conversations with Friends which was auctioned in 12 countries and published by Faber & Faber in 2017;

Conversation with Friends shortisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, 2018; worked ad interim in restaurant administration; appt. ed. of The Stinging Fly, 2017 - handing over to Danny Denton after two issues; contrib. ‘Mr Salary’, to Granta: The Magazine of New Writing, ed., Sigrid Rausing [New Irish Writing] (Spring 2016) - among published finalists [short-listed] for EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, March 2017; issued Normal People (2018), a US best-seller with 64K sales after releases; adapted as a BBC3 TV 12-part film series (dir.  Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, 2020);

selected for fellowship at NYPL, and said at the time to be working on a a novel addressing politics and aesthetics; Conversations with Friends to be filmed by the same production team as Normal People; tweeted and published in support of the Irish abortion referendum of May 2018, contributing an essay on “The Irish Problem” to London Review of Books (24 May 2018), writing: ‘in the relationship between foetus and woman, the woman is granted fewer rights than a corpse’; Beautiful World, Where Are You (2021), a third novel, published by Faber on 7 Sept. 2021; she has described herself as a Marxist; Rooney refused to let her novel Beautiful World be translated into Hebrew as a member of BDS [pro-Palestinian boycott on Israel]. Oct. 2021; joined her name to an authors" petition of 2,500 signees appealing for living wages in Waterstones bookshop workers; awarded the Book of the Year accolade by Waterstones in 2018; lives in Dublin;

[ The launch of Beautiful World was accompanied by limited edition bucket hats and tote bags on first publication
in Sept. 2021 - a sales pitch which did not please everyone ... see New Statesman (27 Aug. 2021) - online. ]

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  • Conversations with Friends (London: Faber & Faber 2017), pp.; another edn. as Conversation with Friends: A Novel (London & NY: Hogarth 2017), 309pp.
  • Normal People (London: Faber & Faber 2018), 266pp.; Do. (NY: Random House [2019]), another edn. as Normal People: A Novel (London & NY: Hogarth 2018, 2020), vii, 277pp.
  • [trade pb edn.]
  • Beautiful World, Where Are You (London: Faber & Faber 2021) [publ. 7 Sept.2021; see extract].
Short fiction
  • ‘After Eleanor Left’, in Ballinafad: Winter Pages (Winter 2015).
  • ‘Concord 34’, in The Dublin Review (Summer 2016).
  • "At the Clinic", in The White Review (September 2016).
  • “Robbie Brady’s astonishing late goal takes its place in our personal histories’, in New Statesman (10 August 2017).
  • “Mr Salary”, in Granta: The Magazine of New Writing, ed., Sigrid Rausing [135: New Irish Writing], (Spring 2016); rep. as “Mr Salary” (London: Faber & Faber [3 Jan.] 2019), 48pp. [pamph.];
  • “Normal People” [extract], in Granta: The Magazine of New Writing [144: Generic Love Story] ed., Sigrid Rausing (2018), qpp. [25pp. with 16 others].
  • ‘Color and Light’, in The New Yorker (18 March 2019).
Rooney has published poetry in The Stinging Fly (Spring 2015): “Seven AM in April”; “An Account of Vital Clues Which Appear To You In A Dream”; “It Is Monday”; “Have I Been Severe?”; “The Most Amazing Live Instrumental Performance You Have Ever Heard”; “Leaving You”.
Miscellaneous (essays)
  • ‘Even if you beat me’, in The Dublin Review (Spring 2015).
  • ‘An Irish Problem’, in London Review of Books (24 May 2018).
  • ‘An App to Cure My Fainting Spells’, in The New Yorker (20 Nov. 2017).
  •  ‘An Irish Problem: Sally Rooney writes about the abortion referendum’, in London Review of Books (24 May 2018) [see infra].
  • ‘Get a Lobotomy’, review of Motherhood by Sheila Heti, in London Review of Books (30 Aug. 2018) [see copy].
Book reviews

‘Troubled Marriages, Old and New’, in The New York Times (9 Feb. 2018).

  • Normal People: An Element Pictures production for BBC in association with Hulu, produced by Catherine Magee in association with Screen Ireland; dir. by Lenny Abrahamson & Hettie Macdonald; screenplay by Sally Rooney, Alice Birch & Mark O’Rowe.

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Anna Leszkiewicz, ‘Sally Rooney on sex, power and the art of being normal’ [interview], in New Statesman (12 Sept. 2018) [see copy - as attached]; Adam Mars, ‘The First Time’, review of Normal People and Conversations with Friends, in London Review of Books (27 Sept. 2018) - see extract; Cheri Armitstead, ‘I don’t respond to authority very well’ [interview], in The Guardian (2 Dec 2018) - online; Christian Lorentzen, review of Beautiful World, Where Are by Sally Rooney, in London Review of Books (23 Sept. 2021) - see extracts.

See also Daniel Johnson, ‘Sally Rooney is wrong to boycott Israel. Here’s why’, in The Article (13 Oct. 2021) - infra.

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Adam Mars, ‘The First Time’, review of Normal People and Conversations with Friends, in London Review of Books (27 Sept. 2018): ‘The blandness of Sally Rooney’s novels, last year’s Conversations with Friends and her new one, Normal People, begins and ends with those oddly non-committal titles. Inside the books her territory is classic – the love relationships of young people – but mapped with an unusual scrupulous smoothness. The characters are brainy, even startlingly so, but she doesn’t exalt their intelligence or flaunt her own. [...] Irish writing often makes a conscious effort to brand itself as such. Rooney’s does not. Her diction is low-key, the rhythms uninsistent. Local variations of vocabulary, preferring “press” to “cupboard” or “culchie” to “yokel”, don’t have the sociolinguistic significance here of Stephen Dedalus’s “tundish” as measured against the dean’s “funnel” in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ireland as presented here is in its essentials a modern state, where a custom such as the anniversary mass held for Marianne’s father generates a plot point rather than an examination of the role of religion in national life. [...] Rooney uses the third person, closely aligned in each section with either Connell or Marianne, porous to one set of emotions. This is an approach to narrative that tends to bring with it a whiff of the arbitrary: there seems no deeper reason than the writer’s convenience for any individual encounter to be related from one perspective rather than the other. It also has the effect, here, of undermining the principle it is supposed to illustrate: it offers the reader privileged access to two sets of thinking pattern, while the book goes on insisting that people are always mysterious to each other, however intimate and tenderly disposed they may be. [...] Normal People doesn’t bear much resemblance to apprentice work.' [Cont.]

Adam Mars, review of Normal People and Conversations with Friends, in London Review of Books, 27 Sept. 2018) - cont.: ‘The evenness of Rooney’s attention is a huge asset, page by page, and the sign of an unusual sensibility. The only question is whether she gives quite enough shape to the story of “the chemistry between two people who, over the course of several years, apparently could not leave one another alone”. The exemplary architecture of sentence and page has no real equivalent on a larger scale, and the meticulousness and lack of hurry that are so effective locally work against a sense of climax or growth, producing a final impression almost of fizzle. In technique and ambition it remains very much in the shadow of Rooney’s first published novel, Conversations with Friends, which is also preoccupied with identity both as an inalienable possession and something mortgaged to others. But in the earlier book the relationships are within and between two couples rather than two individuals – two women in their early twenties, who used to be an item and are still inseparable, and a married couple in their thirties. First-person narration, used with great resourcefulness, makes the inaccessibility of other minds, a theme of Normal People but clashing with its technique, into a principle of the book’s construction. [...] Sally Rooney is well on her way, propelled by unusual quantities of acclaim and assurance. And yet, Normal People seems a less mature project than Conversations with Friends, even if it isn’t a resurrected earlier project. Its slightly awkward time scheme, with artificial forward jumps perhaps transforming a more linear narrative, looks like a classic example of that common phenomenon, the rewrite that spawns a few new problems of its own. Either way, it’s an eccentric decision to follow up a triumph with a mere success.’ [End; see full-text version - as attached.]

Christian Lorentzen, review of Beautiful World, Where Are by Sally Rooney, in London Review of Books (23 Sept. 2021)

Sally Rooney’s emergence in recent years as the avatar of literary success and its online scapegoat is not unrelated to the content of her novels. Normal People begins with its protagonists, Marianne and Connell, comparing their grades at secondary school and ends with Connell getting onto a graduate creative writing programme. In the first pages of Conversations with Friends, the performance poets Frances and Bobbi charm an older writer, Melissa, who promises to write a profile of them. Still undergraduates, they have already boarded the train of lit-biz publicity. Melissa introduces Frances to Valerie, a woman with money and publishing connections, who solicits a short story from her and passes it on to a literary magazine. The story gets published and Frances gets €800 – not bad for a manuscript written in a single sitting and submitted uncorrected. Connell has similar luck with his first submission to a campus magazine. He saves two copies of the issue, stowing one under his childhood bed.


Beautiful World, Where Are You is set in the aftermath of a blockbuster success that sounds not unlike Rooney’s own. Alice Kelleher, a 29-year-old novelist, has come to the west coast of Ireland to live in a big borrowed house and get away from the international pageant of literary publicity (she takes planes, not trains). She has a million euros in the bank and has just had a nervous breakdown, which left her in hospital for a few weeks: ‘I felt very out of control ... I was just extremely angry and upset all the time. I wasn’t in control of myself, I couldn’t live normally. I can’t explain it more than that.’ Normality has totemic significance in Rooney’s writing: her characters either think of themselves as ‘special’ – that is, smart and sensitive but stranded among Normal People – or they yearn to be normal rather than fucked up and damaged. There is a relentless keeping score on this account, not only of who is a ‘normal’ person but of who is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘nice’ or ‘evil’ person. Every action, every bit of behaviour, may reveal an essence. It’s a strange way of portraying characters who are basically innocent and not in the least weird.


How much you enjoy Rooney’s novels – enjoyment is the point, and there’s no denying her broad appeal – depends on your attitude towards her characters. I’m not talking about likeability, or the moral status these people are constantly calculating, or their relentlessly avowed leftist politics: that’s fine – plenty of people talk a radical talk and live their lives as complacent liberals. I mean simply: are they interesting? On my scorecard, Frances and Bobbi come top: Bobbi because she shoots her mouth off a lot and doesn’t seem to give much of a fuck what anybody, except sometimes Frances, thinks of her; Frances because of the tension between her self-image as a virtuous victim (of her father, of the patriarchy, of capitalism, of her own body) and her obvious selfishness, by which I mean her hunger for literary success and for Nick, the husband of her mentor Melissa. There’s a revealing chat between Frances (‘me’) and Bobbi towards the end of Conversations with Friends:

Bobbi: you have a communist intuition
me: well no, I probably only hated authority because I resent being told what to do
me: if not for you I could have become a cult leader
me: or an ayn rand fan
Bobbi: hey, i resent being told what to do!!
me: yes but out of spiritual purity
me: not a will to power

Imagining Frances as an Ayn Rand fan is not very difficult, given the way she tries to dominate everybody she meets – a ‘will to power’ she quietly and repeatedly manifests, especially in seducing Nick. He’s a television and film actor, good-looking but passive. Frances tells him he has ‘no personality’ and the remark rings true with every text he sends and word he utters.

Reading Normal People sometimes feels like doing maths problems, since Marianne and Connell seem less like people than a quivering set of power dynamics. At school, she’s richer than him, but he’s more popular. Their relative popularity switches when they go to university, where wealth is more salient than amiability. He’s taller than her new boyfriend, but the new boyfriend is loaded: who would intimidate whom? When Marianne gets back from a semester in Sweden, she’s skinnier than she used to be. A point to Marianne. In academic achievement it’s a draw, but after the suicide of a schoolmate Connell inches nearer to Marianne on the trauma scale, Marianne having had a headstart thanks to her violent (now dead) dad, not to mention her shit of a brother and nasty mother. [...]

See full-text in RICORSO Library > Criticism > Reviews- as attached.

Daniel Johnson, ‘Sally Rooney is wrong to boycott Israel. Here’s why’, in The Article (13 Oct. 2021): ‘[...] Yet this failure does not mean that gestures such as Ms Rooney’s cannot do considerable harm. Her claim that Israel practises apartheid against Palestinians is palpably false. Since its inception in 1948, all Israelis have enjoyed equal rights, including the 20 per cent who identify as Arabs or Palestinians. The main Israeli Palestinian party, the United Arab List or Ra’am, is now an important part of the Government. Israeli Arabs take a prominent part in public life and have held high offices of state, such as judges on the Supreme Court. The only legal difference is that Israeli Arabs are exempted from conscription, although a number, especially in the Druze community, do volunteer to serve in the Israel Defence Force. Palestinians who live on the West Bank or in Gaza are not Israeli citizens, but have autonomy, under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas respectively. However, Israeli Palestinians, whether Muslim, Christian or Druze, enjoy the best-protected human rights of any Arab people in the world. Many are critical of aspects of Israeli politics but, unlike almost all minorities elsewhere in the Middle East, Israeli Arabs are emphatically not second-class citizens.’

Daniel Johnson, ‘Sally Rooney is wrong to boycott Israel. Here’s why’ (The Article, 13 Oct. 2021) - cont.s:[...] Ms Rooney should be ashamed of herself for many reasons, but I will mention only one. Irish literature has a proud history of acknowledging and celebrating the country’s small Jewish minority, even when it was suffering hostility and discrimination. The Irish President Eamonn de Valera might have paid his respects to Adolf Hitler even after the Führer’s suicide in April 1945, but James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and many other writers represented a very different Ireland. As against the dire legacy of Catholic and nationalist anti-Semitism, there is in Dublin the splendid institution of Bloomsday on 16 June, which is named after Joyce’s Jewish character Leopold Bloom. Admirers of Joyce trace the route taken by Bloom around Dublin to commemorate the writer, thereby implicitly endorsing his philosemitism.’ (Available online; accessed 22.01.2022.)

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‘“An Irish Problem” - Sally Rooney writes about the abortion referendum’, in London Review of Books [LRB] (24 ay 2018)

Extract: [...] In the relationship between foetus and woman, the woman is granted fewer rights than a corpse. But it’s possible that the ban on abortion has less to do with the rights of the unborn child than with the threat to social order represented by women in control of their reproductive lives.

In 1983, a referendum was held in Ireland to establish a constitutional right to life for embryos and foetuses. Abortion was not legal in Ireland at the time; it never has been. The referendum was the result of a campaign by conservative religious groups aimed at preventing any future legislation permitting abortion in any but the most extreme, life-threatening circumstances. The Eighth Amendment passed, gaining 67 per cent of the vote. On 25 May, another referendum will be held on whether to repeal that amendment. This one won’t pass so easily – if it passes at all.

So far the campaign has been distinguished by acrimony, falsehoods and a media obsession with “balance” – an insistence that both sides must be given equal respect and consideration. Though campaign funding is strictly regulated by Irish law, there are questions about how effectively these regulations are being enforced, and in particular about the “No” campaign’s links to anti-abortion organisations in the US. A group calling itself the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, made up largely of American volunteers, has attracted media attention by protesting outside maternity hospitals in Dublin with banners showing dismembered foetuses. The group is connected to a US organisation called the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, whose leader, Gregg Cunningham, visited Ireland in January.

Across the country, “Save the Eighth” posters depict gigantic, robust babies, as if the referendum concerned the health of six-month-old infants. But the subtext is clear: no matter what’s going on in a woman’s life, it’s always a good time to have a baby. One poster produced by the “No” campaign shows an ultrasound image of a foetus below the caption: “I am nine weeks old. I can yawn & kick. Don’t repeal me.” The Together for Yes campaign, which crowdfunded its largely text-based posters, has opted for slogans like: “Sometimes a private matter needs public support”.

By providing the foetus and the pregnant woman with an equal right to life, the Eighth Amendment prohibits abortion in all circumstances unless the life of the woman is at substantial risk. The threat of serious, permanent injury or illness is insufficient grounds for a termination. In 1992, a 14-year-old child who had been raped by a neighbour became suicidal as a consequence of the resulting pregnancy. After the attorney general issued an injunction to prevent her from travelling abroad for an abortion, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, holding that suicidal feelings constitute a risk to life. Much of Ireland’s abortion debate since then – including a referendum in 1992 and another in 2002 – has hinged on whether the possibility of suicide does in fact constitute a sufficiently immediate risk. In 1992, 35 per cent of the population believed it did not.

The criteria by which doctors gauge a risk to life, as distinct from a risk to health, are still unclear. In 2012, a woman called Savita Halappanavar developed sepsis during a miscarriage. Aware that her pregnancy was no longer medically viable, and increasingly unwell as the infection spread, she asked for a termination. The request was refused, because the risk to her life was not deemed substantial. By the time she was ill enough to be allowed a termination it was too late. Halappanavar died of a cardiac arrest caused by the sepsis. The decision to hold the upcoming referendum was sparked by the public outcry that followed her death. Months after the story broke, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed, setting out the processes by which pregnant women whose lives were endangered could access terminations – before then, no legal guidelines had existed for doctors or patients. In 2016, as demand for constitutional change continued to grow, the government set up a Citizens’ Assembly to look into the issue. The Eighth Amendment was no longer just about abortion; it was now about public health. Discussion focused on the most egregious consequences of the law: the fact that pregnant women with cancer had limited rights to access treatment that might endanger the foetus; that women had to continue with pregnancies that had been deemed non-viable; that children (and adult women) who had been sexually abused were forced to bear their rapists’ offspring.

Support for abortion in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality has been solid in Ireland since 2013. All the major political parties now advocate repeal of the amendment. And yet the outcome of the upcoming referendum looks uncertain, with a substantial cohort remaining undecided. This indecision is probably connected to worries about the government’s plans for reform. If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, Fine Gael has pledged to introduce legal terminations up until twelve weeks’ gestation. In other words, abortion would be available not only in the so-called “hard cases”, but also when a healthy woman in her first trimester decides she doesn’t want to be pregnant. Do women who are not victims of abuse, or in mortal danger, have the right to end a pregnancy just because they feel like it?

Yes. Pregnancy, entered into willingly, is an act of generosity, a commitment to share the resources of life with another incipient being. Such generosity is in no other circumstances required by law. No matter how much you need a kidney donation, the law will not force another person to give you one. Consent, in the form of a donor card, is required even to remove organs from a dead body. If the foetus is a person, it is a person with a vastly expanded set of legal rights, rights available to no other class of citizen: the foetus may make free, non-consensual use of another living person’s uterus and blood supply, and cause permanent, unwanted changes to another person’s body. In the relationship between foetus and woman, the woman is granted fewer rights than a corpse. But it’s possible that the ban on abortion has less to do with the rights of the unborn child than with the threat to social order represented by women in control of their reproductive lives.

Irish women’s freedom to decide what happens to their bodies has been restricted by many and varied means: the prohibition on contraception until the 1980s, the legality of marital rape until 1990, the threat of incarceration in institutions like the Magdalen Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes. These legal and social practices were not arranged around the protection of unborn life, but around control of reproduction. Even now, it is the idea of female agency that separates permissible forms of abortion from those deemed unacceptable in Irish law. Traumatised or fatally ill women may be granted the right to terminate a pregnancy precisely because they are not seen to be exercising free and independent agency. Those who object to abortion, but make an exception in the case of rape, cannot be primarily concerned with the sanctity of the unborn: a foetus conceived by rape is no different from a foetus conceived by consensual sex. To make an exception for women who can be classed as victims is to display fear and anxiety of the woman who is not one, but who would simply exercise her right no longer to be pregnant.

Whatever happens on 25 May, thousands of Irish women will continue to have abortions every year. A 1992 referendum affirmed the right of pregnant women to travel abroad to access abortion. I cannot recall a major political figure ever questioning the wisdom of that amendment. If anti-abortion campaigners truly believe the foetus is a person like any other, a constitutional right to take that person abroad in order to kill them should be unacceptable; yet the “No” campaign is united in its approval of the right to travel. The existence of accessible British abortion services has taken pressure off the issue in Ireland; most women who need to can scrape together the money for a trip to the UK. It’s only those in extreme circumstances – women in severe poverty, migrant women without visas, those who are too ill to travel – who feel the full injustice of the Eighth.

In 1979, introducing a law to make contraceptives available for the first time in Ireland, the then minister for health Charles Haughey described it as “an Irish solution to an Irish problem”. Permitting women to travel abroad for abortion is another such solution: keep the issue out of sight and out of mind. The abortion rate in Ireland will not fall if the referendum fails; it may not increase substantially if the referendum passes. But the relationship of pregnant women in Ireland to their own bodies will change, and change significantly, if the “Yes” campaign is successful. I was born in 1991, the same year a Virgin Megastore in Dublin was raided for selling condoms without a pharmacist present. Two years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Four years before the legalisation of divorce. Twenty-seven years, I can only hope, before the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

11 May 2018

[ Available at London Review of Books - online; accessed 24 May 2018. ]

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Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber & Faber 2021) - exclusive extract in The Irish Times (28 Aug. 2021) - prior to publication on 7 Sept. 2021.

A woman sat in a hotel bar, watching the door. Her appearance was neat and tidy: white blouse, fair hair tucked behind her ears. She glanced at the screen of her phone, on which was displayed a messaging interface, and then looked back at the door again. It was late March, the bar was quiet, and outside the window to her right the sun was beginning to set over the Atlantic. It was four minutes past seven, and then five, six minutes past. Briefly and with no perceptible interest she examined her fingernails. At eight minutes past seven, a man entered through the door. He was slight and dark-haired, with a narrow face. He looked around, scanning the faces of the other patrons, and then took his phone out and checked the screen. The woman at the window noticed him but, beyond watching him, made no additional effort to catch his attention. They appeared to be about the same age, in their late twenties or early thirties. She let him stand there until he saw her and came over.
 Are you Alice? he said.
 That’s me, she replied.
 Yeah, I’m Felix. Sorry I’m late.
 In a gentle tone she replied: That’s alright. He asked her what she wanted to drink and then went to the bar to order. The waitress asked how he was getting on, and he answered: Good yeah, yourself? He ordered a vodka tonic and a pint of lager. Rather than carrying the bottle of tonic back to the table, he emptied it into the glass with a quick and practised movement of his wrist. The woman at the table tapped her fingers on a beermat, waiting. Her outward attitude had become more alert and lively since the man had entered the room. She looked outside now at the sunset as if it were of interest to her, though she hadn’t paid any attention to it before. When the man returned and put the drinks down, a drop of lager spilled over and she watched its rapid progress down the side of his glass.
 You were saying you just moved here, he said. Is that right?
 She nodded, sipped her drink, licked her top lip.
 What did you do that for? he asked.
 What do you mean?
 I mean, there’s not much in the way of people moving here, usually. People moving away from here, that would be more the normal thing. You’re hardly here for work, are you?
 Oh. No, not really.
 A momentary glance between them seemed to confirm that he was expecting more of an explanation. Her expression flickered, as if she were trying to make a decision, and then she gave a little informal, almost conspiratorial smile.
 Well, I was looking to move somewhere anyway, she said, and then I heard about a house just outside town here – a friend of mine knows the owners. Apparently they’ve been trying to sell it forever and eventually they just started looking for someone to live there in the meantime. Anyway, I thought it would be nice to live beside the sea. I suppose it was a bit impulsive, really. So- But that’s the entire story, there was no other reason.
 He was drinking and listening to her. Toward the end of her remarks she seemed to have become slightly nervous, which expressed itself in a shortness of breath and a kind of self-mocking expression. He watched this performance impassively and then put his glass down.
 Right, he said. And you were in Dublin before, was it?
 Different places. I was in New York for a while. I’m from Dublin, I think I told you that. But I was living in New York until last year.
 And what are you going to do now you’re here? Look for work or something?
 She paused. He smiled and sat back in his seat, still looking at her.
 Sorry for all the questions, he said. I don’t think I get the full story yet.
 No, I don’t mind. But I’m not very good at giving answers, as you can see.
 What do you work as, then? That’s my last question.
 She smiled back at him, tightly now. I’m a writer, she said. Why don’t you tell me what you do?
 Ah, it’s not as unusual as that. I wonder what you write about, but I won’t ask. I work in a warehouse, outside town.
 Doing what?
 Well, doing what, he repeated philosophically. Collecting orders off the shelves and putting them in a trolley and then bringing them up to be packed. Nothing too exciting.
 Don’t you like it, then?
 Jesus no, he said. I f***ing hate the place. But they wouldn’t be paying me to do something I liked, would they? That’s the thing about work, if it was any good you’d do it for free.
 She smiled and said that was true. Outside the window the sky had grown darker, and the lights down at the caravan park were coming on: the cool salt glow of the outdoor lamps, and the warmer yellow lights in the windows. The waitress from behind the bar had come out to mop down the empty tables with a cloth. The woman named Alice watched her for a few seconds and then looked at the man again.
 So what do people do for fun around here? she asked.
 It’s the same as any place. Few pubs around. Nightclub down in Ballina, that’s about twenty minutes in the car. And we have the amusements, obviously, but that’s more for the kids. I suppose you don’t really have friends around here yet, do you?
 I think you’re the first person I’ve had a conversation with since I moved in.
 He raised his eyebrows. Are you shy? he said.
 You tell me.
 They looked at one another. She no longer looked nervous now, but somehow remote, while his eyes moved around her face, as if trying to put something together. He did not seem in the end, after a second or two, to conclude that he had succeeded.
 I think you might be, he said.
 She asked where he was living and he said he was renting a house with friends, nearby. Looking out the window, he added that the estate was almost visible from where they were sitting, just past the caravan park. He leaned over the table to show her, but then said it was too dark after all. Anyway, just the other side there, he said. As he leaned close to her their eyes met. She dropped her gaze into her lap, and taking his seat again he seemed to suppress a smile. She asked if his parents were still living locally. He said his mother had passed away the year before and that his father was ‘God knows where’.
 I mean, to be fair, he’s probably somewhere like Galway, he added. He’s not going to turn up down in Argentina or anything. But I haven’t seen him in years.
 I’m so sorry about your mother, she said.
 Yeah. Thanks.
 I actually haven’t seen my father in a while either. He’s - not very reliable.
 Felix looked up from his glass. Oh? he said. Drinker, is he?
 Mm. And he - You know, he makes up stories.
 Felix nodded. I thought that was your job, he said.
 She blushed visibly at this remark, which seemed to take him by surprise and even alarm him. Very funny, she said. Anyway. Would you like another drink?
 After the second, they had a third. He asked if she had siblings and she said one, a younger brother. He said he had a brother too. By the end of the third drink Alice’s face looked pink and her eyes had become glassy and bright. Felix looked exactly the same as he had when he had entered the bar, no change in manner or tone. But while her gaze increasingly roamed around the room, expressing a more diffuse interest in her surroundings, the attention he paid to her had become more watchful and intent. She rattled the ice in her empty glass, amusing herself.
 Would you like to see my house? she asked. I’ve been wanting to show it off but I don’t know anyone to invite. I mean, I am going to invite my friends, obviously. But they’re all over the place.
 In New York.
 In Dublin mostly.
 Whereabouts is the house? he said. Can we walk there?
 Most certainly we can. In fact we’ll have to. I can’t drive, can you?
 Not right now, no. Or I wouldn’t chance it, anyway. But I do have my licence, yeah.
 Do you, she murmured. How romantic. Do you want another, or shall we go?
 He frowned to himself at this question, or at the phrasing of the question, or at the use of the word “romantic”. She was rooting in her handbag without looking up.
 Yeah, let’s head on, why not, he said.
 She stood up and began to put on her jacket, a beige single-breasted raincoat. He watched her fold back one sleeve cuff to match the other. Standing upright, he was only just taller than she was.
 How far is it? he said.
 She smiled at him playfully. Are you having second thoughts? she said. If you get tired of walking you can always abandon me and turn back, I’m quite used to it. The walk, that is. Not being abandoned. I might be used to that as well, but it’s not the sort of thing I confess to strangers.
 To this he offered no reply at all, just nodded, with a vaguely grim expression of forbearance, as if this aspect of her personality, her tendency to be “witty” and verbose, was, after an hour or two of conversation, a quality he had noted and determined to ignore. He said goodnight to the waitress as they left. Alice looked struck by this, and glanced back over her shoulder as if trying to catch sight of the woman again. When they were outside on the footpath, she asked whether he knew her. The tide broke in a low soothing rush behind them and the air was cold.
 The girl working there? said Felix. I know her, yeah. Sinead. Why?
 She’ll wonder what you were doing in there talking to me.
 In a flat tone, Felix replied: I’d say she’d have a fair idea. Where are we heading?
 Alice put her hands in the pockets of her raincoat and started walking up the hill. She seemed to have recognised a kind of challenge or even repudiation in his tone, and rather than cowing her, it was as though it had hardened her resolve.
 Why, do you often meet women there? she asked.
 He had to walk quickly to keep up with her. That’s an odd question, he replied.
 Is it? I suppose I’m an odd person.
 Is it your business if I meet people there? he said.
 Nothing about you is my business, naturally. I’m just curious.
 He seemed to consider this, and in the meantime repeated in a quieter, less certain voice: Yeah, but I don’t see how it’s your business. After a few seconds he added: You’re the one who suggested the hotel. Just for your information. I never usually go there. So no, I don’t meet people there that much. Okay?
 That’s okay, that’s fine. My curiosity was piqued by your remark about the girl behind the bar “having an idea” what we were doing there.
 Well, I’m sure she figured out we were on a date, he said. That’s all I meant.
 Though she didn’t look around at him, Alice’s face started to show a little more amusement than before, or a different kind of amusement. You don’t mind people you know seeing you out on dates with strangers? she asked.
 You mean because it’s awkward or whatever? Wouldn’t bother me much, no.
 For the rest of the walk to Alice’s house, up along the coast road, they made conversation about Felix’s social life, or rather Alice posed a number of queries on the subject which he mulled over and answered, both parties speaking more loudly than before due to the noise of the sea. He expressed no surprise at her questions, and answered them readily, but without speaking at excessive length or offering any information beyond what was directly solicited. He told her that he socialised primarily with people he had known in school and people he knew from work. The two circles overlapped a little but not much. He didn’t ask her anything in return, perhaps warned off by her diffident responses to the questions he’d posed earlier, or perhaps no longer interested.
 Just here, she said eventually.
 She unlatched a small white gate and said: Here. He stopped walking and looked at the house, situated up a length of sloped green garden. None of the windows were lit, and the facade of the house was not visible in any great detail, but his expression indicated that he knew where they were.
 You live in the rectory? he said.
 Oh, I didn’t realise you would know it. I would have told you at the bar, I wasn’t trying to be mysterious.
 She was holding the gate open for him, and, with his eyes still on the figure of the house, which loomed above them facing out onto the sea, he followed her. Around them the dim green garden rustled in the wind. She walked lightly up the path and searched in her handbag for the house keys. The noise of the keys was audible somewhere inside the bag but she didn’t seem to be able to find them. He stood there not saying anything. She apologised for the delay and switched on the torch function on her phone, lighting the interior of her bag and casting a cold grey light on the front steps of the house also. He had his hands in his pockets. Got them, she said. Then she unlocked the door.

—Available at The Irish Times - online; accessed 28.08.2021.

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