“Color and Light”
by Sally Rooney
first published in the March 11, 2019 issue of The New Yorker

I had not heard of Sally Rooney until last year, when her second novel Normal People was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Lee reviewed it for the site (see here). It has since gone on to be mightily lauded: it won the Irish Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, it won the Costa Book Award, it has been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, and last week it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Lauren Collins wrote a lengthy piece on Sally Rooney in The New Yorker in January, with the tagline that Rooney “has been hailed as the first great millennial novelist.” I think she’s doing quite well!

Here we are with “Color and Light,” and I’m so curious how everyone will respond!

As you can see by my late posting of this, it’s been a busy week, and I have not read this or even skimmed it. Don’t have the first idea what it’s about! Does it showcase a budding author? Perhaps the first great millennial novelist? Who else is in the running for that honor?

Enlighten me and everyone else and please leave a comment below!

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By |2019-03-14T01:24:47-04:00March 14th, 2019|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Sally Rooney|Tags: |12 Comments


  1. Lee Monks March 14, 2019 at 6:40 am

    Rooney is the real deal,Trevor. That lengthy list of accolades would, I think, be longer still but for a reluctance amongst literary gatekeepers to ignore their worries about perceptions of zeitgeist opportunism, sales and unshowy prose. There seems to be a misapprehension that her subject matter thus far – relationships amongst young men and women – is in any way equivalent to the depth of her insight. It feels to me akin to someone quibbling at Cassavettes for spending too long on Gena Rowlands’ face, or Chekhov for not broadening his canvas, or Gus Van Sant for using shots that are uncomfortably long. Rooney is dealing in perception and misperception, delusion, loneliness, isolation, community, love, identity, fate, persona – all the good stuff. In other words, there’s substance here, and less is very much more. In a few years I’m sure her reputation will be much the greater – for now she’s perhaps too popular for many to buy into any of it. (This is not to say everyone will care for the work – but to dismiss it as trifling is for me far too easy.)

    Anyway, Trevor, read it and put me to rights!:)

  2. David March 15, 2019 at 8:16 am

    I have not read anything by Rooney before, but I have heard a bit about Normal People and I can’t say I have been much interested in reading it. But this story overall worked for me. I liked how we have these two characters each trying to figure the other one out and them spending time together in what seems like it might be the start of some sort of relationship, but Rooney resists falling into conventional traps like them having sex after he walks her home from the fireworks, for example. Sometimes in a story with a lot of questions being asked about a character (there are almost a hundred of them in this story) I get the feeling that the author doesn’t know who the character is and so is asking questions of herself about the person and just jotting them down as a substitute for actually developing a character. But Rooney manages to do this is a way that makes it feel more like a natural, awkward, gradual getting to know each other interaction.
    I don’t know that I quite understand the final scene, specifically what we are supposed to think of how she got the bloody nose and what the relationship between Pauline and the man she is with is supposed to be, but it does seem clear enough that Pauline asks for Aidan to help her and she suggests the hotel might be full to let him know that is what she wants him to say. It’s also clear that Aidan’s reaction is one of being willing to help, but then also deciding he is done with her, although why that is the case is also not really clear. I have a guess as to what that might be, but am no more confidant in that idea than thinking it just a guess. But in the end it does not much matter as the story that leads up to that ending was entertaining enough on its own.

  3. Sean H March 15, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    This is a very promising and talented young writer already starting to live up to some of the promise. Does it risk ostentation? Yes. But there’s a sexiness quotient to this story that is hard to achieve.

    The opening is detailed and efficient. Class is woven in, as are fame & importance. The lack of quotation marks, while maybe not entirely necessary, was not a distraction. I liked the meta quality of Aidan as an observer of the world, the watcher of life like it’s a play. Later in the story, life is compared to a dream and a video game. There is a lot of determinism in this short story.

    The line “Cool night air floods through the open window” stopped me in the early going (floods is for liquids) but for the most part the prose was fluid. Great job editing by the writer and whoever else edited the piece.

    The dead mother, the house, the brotherhood & loyalty themes, these are all unpacked cleanly. The unknowability of others, Pauline being described as maybe a screenwriter, sometimes a woman, sometimes a girl, ageless, with different haircuts and different friends and hangers on, difficult to tell if she has her own money or comes from money or just hangs out with people who throw money around; all wise choices.

    “Wheelie” is a good word.

    She’s good with the non-visual details, this Rooney, the quiet car or the smells of perfume and alcohol (or the non-smell of the ocean). The description of a head shaped like a headache pull, also good, even if the windshield as computer screen is a bit more of a tryhard move.

    Aidan’s introspective, self-conscious, self-aware nature and his liminal sexuality are all signs of an author adept at characterization. I like that he doesn’t really comment much on Pauline’s body as a more thoroughly straight/heterosexual male would.

    Tech is well-incorporated. Liked the “group chat.”

    “She’s coming up fairly often…” is a good line, as is “We don’t really talk about things.” Both Aidan and the author know what’s up, though I would tweak the point about humans being submissive. We’re compliant more than we are submissive.

    The something-good-will-be-dead thing after the fireworks scene was the story at its most overwrought, in a Garth Risk Hallberg sense.

    Aidan’s recounting of the sex with the possibly married slightly older hotel guest was expertly rendered. His reflection on the people who’d have to cover his shifts if he died is strong too.

    The “I liked you exchange” was deftly presented. Really gets at the core of the inexorableness of the reality that they can’t connect (and how, more philosophically, no two human beings can ever really connect/know each other).

    The glazed glass moment of consideration is also very good.

    Even Aidan’s work-self interaction with Lydia at the end is drawn quite realistically and with great economy.

    The anti-climax ending is not a cowardly one.

  4. Trevor Berrett March 15, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    Apologies to Lee, whose comment above was first but which languished in moderation limbo! I didn’t see it until today, and I wanted to make sure the rest of you didn’t miss it due to my negligence!

  5. David March 15, 2019 at 10:49 pm

    I was wondering what had happened to Lee. But I never suspected he would end up a prisoner in your own personal limbo, Trevor!


  6. Lee Monks March 16, 2019 at 10:15 am

    No need Trevor – glad the story seems to have gone down pretty well. I agree with Sean on a lot of the particulars. Her novels are deceptively slight and well worth a look.

  7. David March 16, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Lee, the description “deceptively slight” is a good one. I must say, since previously I commented that I didn’t have much interest in her novel, that it’s probably the sense I had that it would be lacking in depth that made me feel that way. But given the quality of this short story and your comments, I probably need to reconsider that assessment.

  8. Lee Monks March 16, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    David: it’s a tricky one as plenty of readers have been left cold by the apparently soapy concerns. Relationships, shallow youth etc. But the acuity of her insight (for me) is what makes them far more than they might at first glance seem. This is a skilled and compassionate artist.

  9. Dennis McKay March 17, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    The entire story was written in first person, and the beginning read to me as a screen play, which the female lead, Pauline, purported as her occupation. There was a murky mystery to this story that I found appealing, with well-placed metaphors along the way. Such as the description of the fireworks as a symbolic precursor to lovemaking that never occurs.
    Another example: “The house is spacious and, though furnished, appears curiously empty. The ceilings are high up and far away.” I took this as a representation of Pauline.
    I thought the ending hurried and unclear, but there is no denying the gift that this young author possesses.

  10. Ken March 19, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    This felt to me like an excerpt, even though I don’t think it is. What others have called simplicity or subtlety, just struck me as rather flat. But….I could see getting interested in Aidan if this continued and he developed. It was certainly readable and brisk, but I didn’t see as much in this as others. Again, though, this site is very appreciated as a great venue for discussion.

  11. David March 19, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    Ken, I’m surprised you thought this felt like excerpt. It has about as clear a beginning and ending as you might hope for – starting with Aidan first meeting Pauline and ending with him being done with his interest in her. The story is the entirety of their relationship.

  12. Ken March 20, 2019 at 1:41 am

    I guess it’s because I didn’t find it that compelling on its own. Yes, it does have a clear beginning and end, it’s not that. It’s just that I could see this becoming interesting only if we kept spending time with Aidan, but not as it was.

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