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Alison Oliver and Sasha Lane in Hulu's adaptation of Sally Rooney's 'Conversations With Friends'

The 11 Biggest Differences Between The Conversations With Friends Book And Show

It was a pretty faithful adaptation, but there were still some changes.

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Sally Rooney released her first novel, Conversations with Friends, in 2017 to critical acclaim. But it was her second novel, 2018’s Normal People, that brought her mainstream stardom when it was adapted as a 12-episode Hulu series in 2020. Following that series’ success, Hulu went back and adapted Rooney’s first work, also for a 12-episode run. Like it was with Normal People, this new adaptation is quite faithful, but there are still some key differences between the Conversations With Friends book and series.

Spoiler alert: Spoilers for Conversations With Friends follow. The novel and the resulting show are complex and frustrating at times as they highlight the life of introverted college student and poet Frances (Alison Oliver), who exists at the center of a group of four friends who take turns desiring and despising one another: Frances and Bobbi (Sasha Lane), best friends who used to date, become entangled with a successful married couple, Nick (Joe Alwyn) and Melissa (Jemima Kirke); Nick and Frances begin an affair while Bobbi develops a crush on Melissa. Of course, mess ensues, and like with any Rooney work, the audience is left unsure of who to love and who to hate; who is the victim, and who is the perpetrator.

Although Rooney was only involved in the planning stages and casting of Conversations and not the script or filming, the show largely remained true to the book, often using Rooney’s writing verbatim in the characters’ dialogue. Executive producer Ed Guiney told Vanity Fair, “When we had questions about things, we would always look back at what Sally had written, and move toward that.”

Some key differences in casting and the script did occur, though, adding layers to the themes and altering the feel of the adaptation.

Content warning: This story references self-harm and mental health.

Bobbi & Melissa’s Identities

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In Rooney’s book, all four characters are Irish, which inflects their relationships with shared cultural knowledge. The show changed this dynamic, making Bobbi a Black American and Melissa a Brit. Director Lenny Abrahamson told Vanity Fair that the decision for Bobbi came from Lane’s natural prowess in the auditions and their desire to represent the “diversity of modern Ireland.” Abrahamson also said, “We wanted to keep Bobbi even further from the rest of them. Letting her have an American accent kept her a bit more singled out.” So far, the producers haven’t commented on the decision to change Melissa’s identity.

The Croatian/French Holiday

In the book, the vacation where Nick and Frances start to hook up again after taking a brief hiatus was originally set in the South of France, but the adaptation moves the holiday to a home in Croatia instead. It’s unclear why exactly this change was made, but it’s still far too beautiful a setting for these melodramatic characters and their scandalous activities.

Frances & Melissa’s Relationship

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On their holiday in the show, Melissa senses a flirty vibe between Nick and Frances and transparently asks Frances whether there’s anything she should know about the relationship between her husband and new friend. Frances, of course, evades the question. In the book, though, Melissa comes across far less accusatory and more caring. After picking up the flirtatious energy on vacation, Melissa asks Frances to promise to tell her if Nick ever makes her feel uncomfortable. This increases the reader’s feelings that Nick is predatory and his relationship with Frances is unethical beyond its status as an affair. The show, in this moment, more squarely places Frances as the perpetrator of Melissa’s pain instead of Nick.

Frances’ Naivety

Frances is 21 in both the book and show, having a full 11 year age gap with Nick when they begin their affair. She is also naive and immature in both iterations of the story — constantly, and meekly, asking Nick for affirmation and apologizing profusely to him even when there is nothing for her to apologize about. Yet she is even more naive in the show — even at one point trying on Nick’s large overcoat in a scene that reads more like a child trying on her father’s clothes rather than a romantic gesture. These slight changes make it so the stark age difference and power dynamic between Nick and Frances comes into even harsher light.

Frances’ History With Men

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Although Frances cries after having sex with Nick in both the show and book, there is one key difference between the two iterations of their first time hooking up. In the book, Frances tells Nick she’s never had sex with a man before they do the deed, but in the show, Frances admits this through tears after their sexual encounter. This makes her appear more shameful of the fact and colors the conversation as if Frances is confessing something instead of simply sharing her history.

Nick’s Loan To Frances

Much like with the adaptation of Normal People, Rooney’s commentary on how classism and capitalism affect interpersonal relationships is much more direct in the book than in the show. In the series, Frances and Bobbi chat about money and allegiances to communism occasionally but in the book, Frances is often cast as the outsider for coming from a working class background and having to work to survive in Dublin. The biggest missing plot point from the book is Nick loaning Frances money when her dad ceases to send her allowance. Nick and Frances have lengthy conversations about the power dynamics present in him giving her money, although he says he would rather she have it because she actually needs it. Eventually, Frances is able to pay him back, but the weight of that power imbalance deeply imbues Frances’ feelings toward herself and Nick in the book.

Bobbi’s Rant About Monogamy

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Although Bobbi’s pub rant about her feminist issues with monogamy is almost verbatim from Rooney’s novel, her anger is more personal in the show. The adaptation more directly connects Bobbi’s sadness over her parents’ messy divorce to her dissolution with monogamy. Generally, compared to the book, the show gives audiences more of Bobbi’s backstory and personal traumas.

Frances & Self-Harm

Cutting and other iterations of self-harm feature much more heavily in the book compared to the show, the latter of which only shows Frances self-harming once. In the book, Frances is often drawn to self-harm after visiting with her dad or fighting with Bobbi and Nick. These additional details add to the characterization of Frances and make the book more focused on mental health than the show.

Frances’s Apparent Desire For Harm

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In the book, after Frances and Nick fight about her having sex with a stranger from a dating app, they make up, have sex, and Frances asks Nick to hit her. It seems, much like her desire to self-harm, that she wants to be punished for things she feels she has done wrong, or harm she has caused to herself and others. Nick refuses and Frances feels very embarrassed, much like a very similar scene in Normal People when Marianne asks Connell to hit her during sex and he rescinds his consent out of deep discomfort. This scene from the Conversations novel is nowhere to be found in the adaptation, removing a layer that connects the two Rooney works and making Nick and Frances’s relationship a little less complicated.

Frances’ Church Visit

The book draws out Frances’ final fight with Bobbi for a couple more scenes than the show. In Rooney’s book, Frances goes to a church to pray, faints in the pews due to her endometriosis, and is helped by a stranger. Only after this does she apologize to Bobbi and starts being honest about her diagnosis. In the show, Frances seems healthier and happier when she makes the decision to apologize to Bobbi.

That Normal People Easter Egg

Bobbi and Frances have a friend named Marianne in the book who is described as having just spent the summer in Brooklyn, leading readers to think this could be a Normal People easter egg. At the end of Normal People, Connell decides to move to New York and Marianne decides to stay in Ireland but promises she’ll visit. This unconfirmed easter egg does not feature in the new Conversations adaptation. Perhaps the creators wanted to let this project stand on its own, away from the fame of Rooney’s first adaptation.

All book-to-screen adaptations have a degree of difference, because audio and video naturally adjust the vibe of a story. For the producers of the Conversations adaptation, though, it seems maintaining Rooney’s writing was of utmost importance. Although Rooney loyalists may still be able to pinpoint some changes, all fans can at least be thankful the sex scenes largely stayed true to the steamy book.