Resonating with Madeleine Schwartz’s remarks on the politics of Sally Rooney, Nathan Goldman writes about the politics of Rooney’s conservative aesthetics in the Baffler:
Some critics have gone much further than Rooney herself, to the point of reading her characters’ politics as vacuous. Laura Miller, writing in Slate, described [Conversations With Friends] as “a satire, its characters prattling on about love as a ‘discursive practice,’ reading books about ‘postcolonial reason,’ and calling themselves communitarian anarchists while living what are, after all, fairly routine bourgeois lives.” … Readings like Miller’s assume Rooney is taking her characters’ politics unseriously and see them as being used primarily to highlight the hypocrisy of their expression against a backdrop of bourgeois life.
It’s not wrong to read Rooney’s novels as satirical, though Miller’s analysis ignores her characters’ self-awareness about their relationship to radical ideas. … This all points to the possibility of a subtler, more generative relationship between the novel and its characters’ (and Rooney’s) political beliefs — a kind of formal ambivalence particular to Rooney’s task of writing conventional novels with anti-capitalist political concerns. …
None of this necessarily forecloses the possibility of novels that oppose the form’s inherent conservatism. Yet Conversations with Friends doesn’t attempt such an opposition, at least in any obvious way. In one reading, its structure might neutralize the characters’ political concerns, which become objects of mere amusement if not outright derision. But what if we were to read these concerns not as something nullified by the novel’s conventional form, but rather as a force in productive tension with it?