Book recommendations for sensitive interiority
August 1, 2020 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I just finished reading the wildly popular Sally Rooney books Conversations with Friends and Normal People and I really really liked them. I think the main thing I really liked was how vivid the internal lives of the characters were.

I think in this time of isolation and missing hanging out with my friends I was just really feeling that "window" into other people's thoughts and feelings written in a deeply empathetic and vulnerable way. I was very taken with the way Rooney captured the nuances and dynamics of interpersonal relationships between the characters.

I also really liked how these books capture a sense of intimacy, like a really good late night conversation.

Other authors that came to mind for capturing something similar for me are Elizabeth Strout and Milan Kundera.

Open to any genre, but I'm partial to literary fiction.

Previous, but slightly different, Sally Rooney-inspired book recommendation post.
posted by forkisbetter to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
That previous thread covers the writers that immediately came to my mind: Elena Ferrante, Rachel Cusk, and Ali Smith. One Ali Smith book that I didn't see mentioned was Artful, which is a collection of essays on writing that is also a moving and uplifting novel about loss. It's really good.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:27 AM on August 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Middlemarch is more like Sally Rooney than you might expect (and a wonderful quarantine (re)read).
posted by theodolite at 8:47 AM on August 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I also love books where the characters' thoughts seem true but also insightful. Books that have stood out for me like this are:

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
The Light Years, Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Idiot, Elif Batuman
posted by carolr at 9:09 AM on August 1, 2020

Best answer: Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is what you seek. It flows from mind to mind to mind.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:17 AM on August 1, 2020

I really enjoyed Emma Straub's All Adults Here recently; she does a good job getting into her characters' heads and making me view them with empathy even when they make bad decisions. I also liked The Last Summer of Ada Bloom by Martine Murray for similar reasons. The Idiot and Mrs. Dalloway are great!
posted by ferret branca at 9:41 AM on August 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

For me, Tim Farrington's novels scratch this itch, though the focus is a bit more conversational and a bit less internal--he seems deeply attuned to the subtleties of human interaction. His books do have a wry or ironic slant and often cover the spiritual dimension of life, though not in any dogmatic way, and ultimately I find them super compassionate and relatable.
posted by overglow at 9:56 AM on August 1, 2020

Best answer: "Sensitive interiority" makes me think of Iris Murdoch, especially her novels from the 80s. The Good Apprentice and The Philosopher's Pupil are my favorites, & The Sea, The Sea (late 70s) is also great. Her characters' concerns toggle between small-scale quotidian stuff and Very Large Questions in a way I find realistic and satisfying.
posted by miles per flower at 10:52 AM on August 1, 2020

Willy Vlautin
posted by mani at 3:45 PM on August 1, 2020

Tender by Belinda McKeon is similar to Rooney's books not only emotionally but in many details: the central character is a female student at Trinity College in Dublin. It came out a few years before Rooney's.
posted by JonJacky at 5:10 PM on August 1, 2020

I warn in advance that this is a very extreme case of "sensitive interiority" but if you are into A Project, Ducks, Newburyport is basically a novel of a run on sentence that is one woman's internal dialogue. I don't think you can get more of a window into other people's thoughts and feelings than this book. It's super interesting but also 1000 pages so a long read.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:34 PM on August 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Nicholson Baker, especially The Mezzanine.
posted by carmicha at 6:03 AM on August 2, 2020

Real Life by Brandon Taylor.
posted by JonJacky at 8:03 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just reread some passages from Real Life. It is stunning. Another bunch of students, but this time they are biochemistry grad students in Madison, Wisconsin. It certainly depicts its protagonist's inner life and relations with others vividly -- sometimes painfully so. I found it darker and more heart-rending than Rooney's books.
posted by JonJacky at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2020

I'm not sure whether it's a pandemic-compatible read, but Elena Ferrante's Days of Abandonment is ferociously interior-focused. It has been described as a portrait of "a mind in emergency" and wow, yes it is. The narrator has a clinical intimacy with her own thoughts and feelings in the wake of her husband leaving her for another woman, and it is powerful stuff.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:24 PM on August 2, 2020

Seconding Rachel Cusk and Ali Smith.

Jenny Offill's Dept of Speculation.

I think it's a love it/hate it proposition (I loved it) but you might take a look at Anna Burns' Milkman
posted by thivaia at 6:07 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

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