Life offers up these moments of joy, despite everything.
Sally Rooney, Normal People
Conversations With Friends
The thing I thought of when I heard a very vague description of this book was: this sounds a bit like Homestuck. If you view Homestuck through the lens of form, this is a bit odd. It is not a book, it is... at once sui generis and not. Its closest cousins are New Yorker or Far Side cartoons or Newgrounds Flash animations of the mid-2000s. If you view it through the sense of scope (as that insufferable PBS Ideas Channel video that spent a good few years in the early 2010s at the top of my Youtube recommendations until I watched it and realised the guy mis-emphasised "Ulysses" in a way I found so annoying I had to stop did) you will be similarly frustrated; it's a 200-page novel about two people not an 8000-page comic about a videogame that ends the universe or whatever the hell.
No, what they have in common is an interest in how relationships are mediated by technology, particuarly instant messenger. One of the things I most liked about Conversations With Friends—the thing that made me want to read the book when Sean told me about it, actually—was the observation the main character makes about their interlocutor's typing quirk:
I was relieved he had put the whole thing in lower case like he always did. It would have been dramatic to introduce capitalization at such a moment of tension.
There's also some stuff about an inability to understand or process correctly one's emotions, to fully understand one's own damage; not to mention indifference and the nature of cool that are also shared between both works. It's not altogether implausible to me that the main character, Frances, wouldn't have been a Homestuck themselves; the ages probably line up about right. Maybe she cosplayed as Rose or something. Maybe she honed her writing skills on Johnkat fanfiction. I'm getting silly with this, sorry. I don't know how much it's like Homestuck really, but I thought it was great.
This is different, and initially I'm not sure I like it. If Conversations With Friends is about people who could stand to shut up a bit, Normal People is about folk who maybe just need to communicate just a little bit more. There's a structure that draws attention to itself, discontinuities in time which reminded me of Iain M. Banks' Use Of Weapons, in a good way. I find the 18-year-old characters to be almost painful to read, possibly because they remind me how much of a prick I was at that age. The characters in Conversations With Friends are insufferable, yes, but they are 21-year-old insufferable, and I can just about remember why I was like that then. Normal People also gives me the vertiginous feeling of the book talking about you, or seeming to be talking about you, or describing something about you in a way you wouldn’t be able to put into words. There's a passage I'm thinking of in particular that I won't quote because it's #2real, but trust me when I say, I felt Seen. No Homestuck stuff in this one, three stars some funny bits.