If You Like Sally Rooney, Read These 5 Books Next

Published on 10/5/2022

I’ve always found that Sally Rooney can be quite a decisive subject, almost like the Taylor Swift of the literary realm. And much of the negativity towards her work isn’t about the content itself but rather the hype surrounding it. People are quick to list someone being ‘overhyped’ as a reason not to like their work, even though that’s a separate matter entirely.

Personally, I am still thinking about ‘Normal People’ two and a half years since first reading it. I loved that book so much that I can’t bring myself to watch the TV adaptation. I’ve never felt so understood by a book and yet also breathlessly captivated by it.

But the issue with being a Sally Rooney fan is that her three books can be read far too quickly, and then what? So this began my search for novels that remind me of Sally Rooney. I dedicated a great chunk of my 2022 reading goals to finding books that Sally Rooney could’ve written, and I’m ready to share my findings!

1. Expectation - Anna Hope

Within the first chapter of this book, my mind immediately went to Sally Rooney. Despite the characters being slightly older than most of Sally’s, they’re struggling with the same angst, self-sabotaging streaks, and complicated relationships. ‘Expectation’ similarly approaches the theme of being unhappy with how your life turned out and yet unable to find the right path or where it even went wrong. The focus on female friendships reminds me of Eileen and Alice, through the love the characters have for each other and yet the baggage they’ve all accumulated. It’s a thought-led narrative rather than an intense plot, which will always make me think of Sally.

What is the book about?

“In her first year of motherhood after an unplanned pregnancy, Cate is constantly exhausted, spiraling into self-doubt and postpartum anxiety. Her husband Sam seems oblivious, but maybe she’d prefer he remain in the dark. How can she admit the unthinkable—that she misses her freedom?

In contrast, Hannah continues to endure round after round of unsuccessful IVF treatments. The process is taking its toll on her physically and emotionally—and, she worries, creating distance between her and her husband Nathan. She is godmother to Cate’s son, but every time they get together, it’s a trigger.

Beautiful and unattached, Lissa is re-evaluating what it means to be an actress in her thirties. While she fiercely resists convention, she’s also lonely. A chance encounter in the British Library with Nathan has her wondering if she missed her best chance at love when she introduced him to Hannah.

As each woman longs for what the others seemingly possess, will their bonds of friendship sustain them in this liminal phase of their lives—or will their envy and desire tear them apart?” - Expectation, Anna Hope

How is it different?

The novel flashes back to when the three protagonists were living together in their twenties, which differs from how Rooney usually remains fixed in the present to follow a character’s current journey properly. As mentioned previously, the characters are all in their thirties, and it deals a lot with having children, or being unable to, which is something less addressed by Sally Rooney until now. But even as someone who doesn’t have children or any current plans to have them, I was still riveted by the novel. The choice to have three protagonists also differs from Sally, who usually has two at most.

2. Exciting Times - Naoise Dolan

Naoise Dolan is very commonly referred to as the next Sally Rooney, and the similarity goes further than their Irish nationality and Irish leading characters. Naoise also adopts stylish, uncluttered prose to dissect life piece by piece. Her protagonist, Ava, questions everything and also does little to change things, which really reminds me of a Sally Rooney character. There’s a focus on complicated relationships that fans of ‘Conversations With Friends’ will appreciate.

What is the book about?

“An intimate, bracingly intelligent debut novel about a millennial Irish expat who becomes entangled in a love triangle with a male banker and a female lawyer

Ava, newly arrived in Hong Kong from Dublin, spends her days teaching English to rich children.

Julian is a banker. A banker who likes to spend money on Ava, to have sex and discuss fluctuating currencies with her. But when she asks whether he loves her, he cannot say more than "I like you a great deal."

Enter Edith. A Hong Kong–born lawyer, striking and ambitious, Edith takes Ava to the theater and leaves her tulips in the hallway. Ava wants to be her—and wants her.

And then Julian writes to tell Ava he is coming back to Hong Kong... Should Ava return to the easy compatibility of her life with Julian or take a leap into the unknown with Edith?” - Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

How is it different?

I’ll be honest in that I didn’t fully connect with this book like I did with Sally’s novels or the other items on the list. It’s well-written and has a dry sense of humour, but it’s just slightly too detached for me. I found the character Ava painfully passive and yearned for a bit more plot. This novel differs from Sally Rooney in setting, as it takes place in Hong Kong and approaches the millennial expat experience. Ava is the only Irish character, which allows for cultural clashes and commentary, which is less seen in Sally’s work.

3. Ghosts - Dolly Alderton

It is hard to describe the love I have for Dolly Alderton. I was given her debut ‘real-girl memoir’, ‘Everything I Know About Love’, and I reread it until pages began falling out. So when it was announced that she was writing a novel, I was nervous yet hopeful. Her novel did not disappoint. I think it could appeal to Sally Rooney fans in the subjects approached, as the protagonist is navigating dating, family issues and growing apart from her friends who have entered a different stage of their life. While the style of writing is different, both approach Millennial issues, and both feature writers as characters!

What is the book about?

“Nina Dean is not especially bothered that she's single. She owns her own apartment, she's about to publish her second book, she has a great relationship with her ex-boyfriend, and enough friends to keep her social calendar full and her hangovers plentiful. And when she downloads a dating app, she does the seemingly impossible: She meets a great guy on her first date. Max is handsome and built like a lumberjack; he has floppy blond hair and a stable job. But more surprising than anything else, Nina and Max have chemistry. Their conversations are witty and ironic, they both hate sports, they dance together like fools, they happily dig deep into the nuances of crappy music, and they create an entire universe of private jokes and chemical bliss.

But when Max ghosts her, Nina is forced to deal with everything she's been trying so hard to ignore: her father's dementia is getting worse, and so is her mother's denial of it; her editor hates her new book idea; and her best friend from childhood is icing her out. Funny, tender, and eminently, movingly relatable, Ghosts is a whip-smart tale of relationships and modern life.” - Ghosts, Dolly Alderton

How is it different?

As mentioned, the style of writing is quite different. Dolly is a columnist at her core, and so her writing is very focused. She doesn’t slip into thought-led prose as much and instead prefers to share her character’s opinions through events, conversations and reactions. There are fewer big questions, and yet the title refers to many aspects throughout. Also, I’ve found that family is a topic less explored in Sally’s work, often intentionally so, while it plays a significant role in ‘Ghosts’.

4. Milk Fed - Melissa Broder

I finished this novel only last week, and I know it’s a cliche, but I devoured it. This novel is funny, erotic, heartbreaking and powerful all rolled into one. It seamlessly discusses the hunger for food, sex, love and belonging. Melissa, like Sally, is unafraid of an unlikeable female protagonist, probably because they both know how relatable those characters actually are. The slide into obsession reminded me of the longing often covered in Sally’s works. The theme of mental illness is also prevalent in both authors’ work.

What is the book about?

“Rachel is 24, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control through obsessive food rituals while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals to nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting - until her therapist encourages her to take a 90-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.

Rachel soon meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam - by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family - and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.” - Milk Fed, Melissa Broder

How is it different?

A big contrast is the setting and background for each novel. ‘Milk Fed’ takes place in the U.S. which will always present a very different set of characters, employment and more. The novel also focuses heavily on the Jewish experience, comparing those devout to Rachel, who has lapsed. It also focuses solely on a sapphic relationship, which is only approached a bit in ‘Conversations With Friends’. This novel is also a bit more vivid and bold than Sally’s work, yet still has a lot of thought-led narrative and questioning.

5. How to Fall Out of Love Madly - Jana Casale

This novel is made up of small yet universal experiences. It’s those little moments, the ones we may barely even think about, that comprise our existence, and more specifically, what we accept from others. Like Sally, Jana focuses on imperfect female characters who believe and say one thing and yet do another. She focuses on the envy of female friendships and the loneliness of loving one-sided. Both authors aren’t afraid of a slow-moving plot and instead focus on minor daily events and the questions they invoke.

What is the book about?

“Joy and Annie are friends and roommates whose thirty-something lives aren’t exactly what they’d imagined. To make ends meet, they decide to rent their extra bedroom to Theo, who charms Joy with his salt-and-pepper hair and adoration of their one-eyed cat. When Annie goes to live with her boyfriend, Theo and Joy settle into a comfortable domesticity. Then Theo brings home Celine, the girlfriend he’s never mentioned, who is possibly the most stunning woman Joy has ever seen. Joy resolves to do whatever it takes to hold on to him, falling ever deeper into an emotional hellscape of her own making. She is too obsessed to realize that Celine’s beauty doesn’t protect her from pain. Haunted by an event from her past, Celine can’t escape her shame and finds herself in an endless cycle of self-sabotage.

Annie is baffled by Joy’s senseless devotion to Theo, but she’s consumed by her own obsessions: she can’t stop parsing her commitment-phobic boyfriend’s texts in an exhausting mission to maintain his approval. At work, where she fully embraces her natural assertiveness, Annie is a star. But when an anonymous letter lands on her desk accusing her esteemed and supportive boss of sexual misconduct, she is forced to decide who and what she’s willing to stand up for.” - How to Fall Out of Love Madly, Jana Casale

How is it different?

Firstly, Jana uses three perspectives rather than two, and all of these characters serve as a source of contrast for the other. While with Sally, I find that the characters tend to be more similar to one another. The chapters are shorter and applied to small daily thoughts or experiences, while Sally prefers to make each chapter a journey of its own. Jana also uses less dialogue and implements past events to show future effects.

These five books should hopefully tide the time until the next Sally Rooney release! While they’re not identical to her work, as nothing could be, they’re all strong in their own style, and tick a lot of the same boxes. Have you read any of these books similar to Sally Rooney? Let me know if the comments!

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