The 11 Biggest Differences Between the Conversations with Friends Book and TV Show

·8 min read
Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

Major spoilers ahead for Conversations with Friends.

The newest Sally Rooney adaptation, Conversations with Friends, is an extremely bingeable 12-episode limited series starring Alison Oliver, Joe Alwyn, Sasha Lane, and Jemima Kirke. The story follows a complicated love square: at the center is 21-year-old Frances (Oliver) who begins an affair with a handsome, older actor named Nick (Alwyn). Frances used to date Bobbi (Lane), but now they're best friends—with lingering feelings for each other—and Bobbi is friends with Nick's writer wife Melissa (Kirke).

The show is largely extremely faithful to its source material, but there are 11 key differences between the Conversations with Friends book and TV show. Here are the biggest differences, roughly in chronological order:

1. Bobbi is a Black American.

Photo credit:  Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

The biggest change in characters from Sally Rooney's novel to the TV show is that Bobbi became a Black American woman. Director Lenny Abrahamson explained to Vanity Fair, "We saw brilliant people, but there was just something about Sasha. There are few people who capture that quality that Bobbi is described as having in the novel—this kind of extraordinariness, this impact."

Lane, who plays Bobbi, adds, "Lenny and I had a lot of conversations about where she’s from, how much where she came from is spoken about. 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."

2. Frances and Nick don't email, they text.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

The intimacy of their emails is what starts their initial affair in the books. Frances narrates, "It was easy to write to Nick, but also competitive and thrilling, like a game of table tennis." While Frances in the TV show may feel similar about texting, the different mediums change the emotional response: Getting a text versus getting an email just feels different. In the Rooney's novel, the two also chat on an instant messenger, and Frances often mentions she sees Nick's messenger status as "online"—something not possible through text. In the TV show, Frances and Nick also video chat, which adds more of a recklessness to their affair.

3. Melissa doesn't write a profile of Bobbi and Frances; instead, she is writing a book.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

In the book, Melissa is a magazine writer working on a story about Frances and Bobbi's spoken-word poetry. However, there's no magazine article in the TV show—Melissa is working on a collection of essays, and at one point, asks to use a line of Frances's poetry in the work.

Therefore, later on, in episode eight, Melissa's book launch is an entire scene—in Rooney's novel, Bobbi and Frances merely go to a reading that an essay of Melissa's appears in. Having the event completely centered on Melissa changes the emotional weight of the evening for Frances, and makes her even more jealous of their marriage.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

4. The fateful summer vacation takes place in Croatia, not France.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

After Nick and Frances pause seeing each other, Melissa invites Frances and Bobbi to join them on vacation at a French villa in Étables, Brittany in northwestern France. In the TV show, however, the villa is in Hvar, Croatia. While the location doesn't change much of what goes down when they're there, episodes four and five are very much set in Croatia. (According to the Times, Joe Alwyn's famous girlfriend, Taylor Swift, joined them while they filmed in these episodes.)

On the summer vacation, Nick and Frances sleep together in Frances's room, not Nick's like they do in the books, so it makes more sense that Bobbi would walk in on them, as she pops into Frances's room all the time.

5. Nick doesn't give Frances cash in the TV show.

Photo credit:  Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

In the book, Frances struggles with the cost of living, and her father, an alcoholic, often forgets to send her money. So, Nick starts giving Frances cash. This is not a plot line in the TV show, really. Frances expresses hesitation about the cost of traveling to Croatia, but more out of anxiety around seeing Nick again. Her feelings don't appear rooted in her own money troubles. In episode nine, her card is declined at a coffee shop. Like in the book, her dad hadn't sent her allowance; however, it doesn't really weave throughout the entire story.

6. Frances doesn't read her mom's Bible in the show.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

In the book, Frances takes a small leather-bound copy of the New Testament from her mom's house in Dublin. "I knew she wouldn't notice it was gone, and if I tried to explain, she wouldn't understand why it interested me," Frances narrates. Throughout the rest of the story, Frances thinks about the New Testament and often references biblical characters, but this doesn't factor into the show at all.

Near the end of the novel, Frances narrates after her endometriosis diagnosis, "But Jesus didn't really know anything, and neither did I. Even if I had any faith, it wasn't going to make me whole. There was no use thinking about it."

7. The conversation where Frances and Bobbi's friend Philip finds out about the affair ends differently.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

This may seem small, but it's actually a big departure from Frances in the book. When Philip, Frances, and Bobbi are all getting milkshakes, in the book, Philip tries to convince the two to start performing together again. In the show, this scene takes place midway through episode eight and their performances doesn't even come up—but the issues between Bobbi and Frances are still clear.

The dialogue begins similarly, with Bobbi saying, "Frances has a secret boyfriend," but then it completely goes in a different direction. Philip asks, "Is he gonna leave her?" And the camera stays on Frances, as she says quietly, "I doubt it." In the book, Rooney writes: "Bobbi scrubbed at her eye with a fist. Quietly and with a tiny mouth I sad said: 'no.'" The difference between "I doubt it" and "no" are miles apart.

8. When Nick comes over to their apartment after Frances faints is at a different point in the evening.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

While Frances fainting and Bobbi helping her get home and get in the bath largely follows the novel, episode nine deviates when Bobbi is the one who helps her, tenderly, get out of the bath and get into bed. Nick doesn't arrive until she's in her pajamas in bed.

In the book, Frances observes, "When I stood up out of the water he looked at me in a way that was not at all vulgar, the kind of look you can give someone's body when you've seen it many times and it has a particular relationship to you. I didn't look away from him and feel embarrassed. I tried to imagine how I must have looked: dripping wet, flushed with steam heat, my hair leaking rivulets of water down my shoulders. I watched him standing there, not blinking, his expression calm and fathomless like an ocean. We didn't have to speak then. He wrapped the cloth around me and I got out of the bath."

In the TV show, Bobbi wraps the towel around her, and the two of them share a loving moment. Yet, Nick later tucks her into bed after they have the conversation about him telling Melissa.

9. Melissa does not send Frances an email.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

One of the pivotal moments in Conversations with Friends (the novel) is a long email Melissa sends Frances after she learns of the affair. In episode ten, the email Melissa sends simply reads: "Can we talk?" Frances goes to meet Melissa at her home, and the two have an awkward conversation over tea. In that conversation, Melissa says much of what is written in the email.

"I'm not really sure why I'm here or what you want me to say to that," Frances tells Melissa.

The two do have a confrontational-esque phone call in the books, after Frances discovers Melissa has sent Bobbi her story and Melissa says to Frances, "Why did you fuck my husband?" That does happen in the show in the final episode—though the conversation goes down differently, and Melissa tells Frances that Nick is struggling.

10. Bobbi finding out about Frances's short story happens at a different part of the story.

In the book, concurrent to Frances receiving her diagnosis of endometriosis and finding out Nick and Melissa are sleeping together again, Bobbi is also extremely angry with Frances over the short story and has moved out—heightening all of Frances's emotions. In the show, the fallout between the friends doesn't happen until after Nick's birthday party at the end of episode eleven.

In the books, as Frances's health worsens and she feels like she's losing Bobbi and Nick, she starts to harm herself. In the TV show, we only see this very briefly.

11. Frances's apology to Bobbi goes down differently.

Photo credit: Enda Bowe
Photo credit: Enda Bowe

Like the changes in communications between Nick and Frances, the long apology that Frances writes to Bobbi after she faints does not take the form of a rushed email. In the show, she does not faint, and reaches out to Bobbi the day after she speaks to Melissa, in a much more thoughtful, measured manner, ending her note, "I love you, and I always have."

In the book, Bobbi shows up at the apartment and Bobbi says, "That was a weird email, but I love you too." In the show, Bobbi calls Frances to tell her, "That was a pretty sold email...it was good. Thank you. I'm sorry, too." Bobbi comes over later, and the two kiss and sleep together—which doesn't happen in the book, explicitly.

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