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Why is the announcement of a new novel by Sally Rooney being greeted with such a fanfare?

When the author’s previous novel was released in 2021 it sold 40,000 copies in just five days

What’s the story?

Best-selling Irish author Sally Rooney’s publisher Faber & Faber announced that it is bringing out her fourth novel, Intermezzo, on September 24th.

What’s the big deal?

When her previous novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, was published in September 2021, more than 50 bookshops in Ireland and Britain opened early and it sold more than 40,000 copies in just five days.

So when you say best-selling, you don’t mean she once topped the charts on a wet week in January?

More than three million copies of her books have been sold in Britain and Ireland alone, and her work has been translated into more than 40 languages.

Has Rooney enjoyed critical success?

She won the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Normal People was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won Irish Novel of the Year, Waterstones’ Book of the Year and a Costa Book Award. She’s just turned 33, so she still has seven years before she’s no longer eligible for the Rooney (no relation) Prize for Irish literature.


There’s no question mark at the end of Beautiful World, Where Are You. How come?


And what’s an intermezzo?

It could be an instrumental movement between two others in a larger work or a comic interlude between acts or scenes of a serious opera. In the US, it’s the brand name of a drug used to treat insomnia.

What’s Intermezzo actually about?

“Intermezzo is a story of brothers and lovers, of familial and romantic intimacies, of relationships that don’t quite fit the conventional structures,” according to her publisher. Dubliners Peter, a 30-something lawyer, and his 22-year-old brother Ivan, a competitive chess player, are mourning the recent death of their father, an intense interlude in their lives, and navigating relationships with the women they love.

What age was Rooney when she made her Irish Times ‘debut’?

In a photograph published in Out of the West, a column focused on the west of Ireland, Sally, aged nine, and another child are gazing at an exhibition at the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Co Mayo, which was being run at the time by her mother, Marie Farrell.

Rooney’s novels reputedly led to an increase in applications to her alma mater, Trinity College Dublin. Was it love at first sight for her?

She found it “glamorous” and “politically repulsive”, she said in a 2017 interview. Coming from Castlebar, it was her first glimpse at how Ireland was run by “a community of the elite that I wanted to be part of but almost only so that I could then turn around and reject it”. “You meet people, and their fathers are actually government ministers or actually High Court judges, and you’re, like, oh, okay, normal. You just don’t get that in Castlebar. In fairness, Enda Kenny is actually from Castlebar, but other than that!”

How did she respond to Donald Trump’s election as US president?

“In this election,” she wrote in The Irish Times, “suffering communities across the US, forced to their knees by poverty, sickness, drug addiction and deprivation, were offered no real choice about the matter at all. Now, even as the lowest-income voters are shown to have supported Clinton, rejecting the misogyny and racism of her opponent, it’s the ‘poor’ and ‘stupid’ who are blamed for choosing the wrong oligarch.”

Who does Rooney say invented the English novel?

Jane Austen – “the earliest novelist in the English language still widely read today... Austen observed in fine detail the manners of a particular class at a particular time – still in many ways the primary task of the novelist. Observing the torturously complex social code necessary to maintain patriarchal rule, she mostly found it extremely funny – which it still is.”

She’s a fan of the novel, then?

She has said: “There are good reasons to be sceptical of the novel as a form. As Marxist critics have long noted, it is a structurally and historically bourgeois genre.”

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times