“Science fiction can evoke the anxiety of being a young person alive today”
Let’s leave that aside.
Early novelist Catherine Prasifka is Sally Rooney’s sister-in-law. And yes, she also went to Trinity College, and yes, she was on the debate team as well.
She’s clearly perplexed to be asked about it again and again – but comparisons to Rooney are inevitable for young Irish women writing about life in their twenties, and Prasifka has an added closeness.
Prasifka’s novel, None of This Is Serious, is told by Sophie, a fresh college graduate who struggles with her relationships, doomscrolls endlessly, and fears she’ll never gain a foothold in the world. Then one day, a mysterious crack forms in the sky letting out a purple glow. Everyone is trying to normalize it, despite the terrible uncertainty it represents.
In conversation, Prasifka is talkative and pleasant, even after a long day of interviews. With a protagonist who is “chronically online”, she seems very aware of the perils of “speech”, how a quote can be ripped off to make you the main character of the internet. “But then you get the backlash and people buy your books so they can burn them, but they still buy them,” she says wryly.
Prasifka has always been a writer. After dabbling in bad vampire novels as a teenager, she continued to study English at university, but she always preferred Game of Thrones to War and Peace. After completing her thesis on Terry Pratchett, she did an MA in Fantasy Literature in Glasgow.
“My mum was like, getting into public service would be awesome. And I was like, no, I’m going to learn more about witches.
She lights up when she talks about fantastic literature.
“There’s this incredible power in science fiction and fantasy to evoke feelings that are hard to evoke in realism. Sometimes if you’re writing realism, you’re writing books based on previous books you’ve read, not about reality as it is. The mysterious crack in the sky of his novel was “this way of using science fiction to evoke the angst of being a young person alive today”.
It’s only fitting that Prasifka’s novel is about living with uncertainty, written as it was in the tumult of 2020. “I call it my weird little book because I wrote it during the pandemic like a gremlin in my little cave.”
She was working as a creative writing teacher at her former school, St Conleth’s in Ballsbridge, but later received pandemic unemployment pay. “I was like, have your anxiety spiral and then see this as an opportunity. I will never again be paid to sit at home and do nothing. In December 2020, she had signed with an agent.
In None of That, Prasifka sets out to explore the consequences of her generation’s heavy use of social media. “It’s a sphere where life happens now. Some chapters are just Sophie in her room on Twitter. It’s the same as walking into a party.
It’s not for me to write a truly nuanced working-class narrative. I think I would probably be wrong. And there are so many better writers than me to tell this story
The ideas for his novel were also driven by the effects of climate change on his generation. “I’ve had conversations with my parents where I’ve tried to explain what climate anxiety looks like. Many of my day-to-day choices will be about climate change. A friend of mine just posted that they won’t fly anymore My mom was like, ‘Why? You can’t feel so anxious about everything all the time.’ I was like, that’s a real existential concern for a lot of people.
She explains that her friends are now vegetarians only for climatic reasons. “I can’t justify using that much water and soil for my meals. It’s something new that people older than us can’t really appreciate.
Then there are the other “general worries” about housing and job stability. “There is a degree to which the rate of change and uncertainty has accelerated. We’re all constantly plugged in and getting information, but we’re also talking about it and making ourselves more anxious on social media.
Prasifka is pragmatic about the assumptions people tend to make about the narrator of a novel representing the author’s own voice. “How can you write a book that’s not about you, the artist has to get into his art. I just hope people spend like five minutes talking to me and they’re like, he’s a person different. On the one hand, I’m never silent.
Interestingly, Sophie doesn’t speak in the novel — we get the whirlwind of her inner monologue and social media posts — but never her spoken words on the page. This has the curious effect of making her appear as a spectator in her own life, adding to the sense of helplessness in the novel.
For people in their 20s, “it feels like there’s really no way to acquire assets, money, political power or stability,” she says. “A lot of my friends have good degrees, have done everything right, and they’re working in a job that’s not in their field, doesn’t pay them enough, and they’re in their twenties.
“I felt very strongly in the last election, which political party was targeting the youth vote, right? Almost none that you really want to vote for.
Nevertheless, the characters in Prasifka’s novel could be considered privileged. While they discuss Marxism and the difficulties of advanced capitalism, there is little pressure to find a job. They go to beautiful parties, spend weekends in country houses.
For Prasifka, it’s about “what kind of stories do I feel qualified to tell. It’s not for me to write a truly nuanced working-class narrative. I think I would probably be wrong. And there are so many better writers than me to tell this story, and people should listen to them instead of another Trinity woman, to be honest.”
“Obviously there’s a certain amount of privilege that doesn’t necessarily translate into assets or a place in society, and it’s not because it’s not as bad as it could be. for each of them that necessarily means that it is good.”
It’s also about the contrast between the way his character speaks and the way he lives. “I know so many falsely awakened people in college,” she says. These characters “don’t give nuanced perspectives. That’s how I used to talk when I was 22. I try not to take a firm political stance on anything because I have two degrees in English and now I’m 26. I know nothing. I am very young and I am still learning, and they are even younger”.
At a wine party with my friends, you talk about all these people’s experiences and you’re shocked at how common they are.
The book, she says, is really about those things that are normal and shouldn’t be – like eating disorders, ‘softer misogyny’ and concerning trends around the use of violence. in sex.
“I think it’s something that’s being talked about now, but hasn’t been for a long time. It’s just something that women put up with and don’t have to actively consent to, and I think that’s bad. At a wine party with my friends, you talk about all these experiences people have had and you’re shocked at how common they are.
I ask Prasifka to be introduced to the world as Sally Rooney’s sister-in-law. “She’s obviously an inspiration,” she says, but she didn’t let Rooney read the book until she had a book deal. “She was dying to read it. I signed with my agent in December and we’re having dinner and she says, “I didn’t know you wrote a book.”
“I just knew I was going to be asked those questions, and I know I wanted to do it myself.”
And while it’s great to have someone in the family who knows, “it’s a double-edged sword. I’m obviously taking advantage of the people reading the book and the search engine optimization to have my name next to Sally’s,” she laughs.
However, “I think when it’s ‘the new Sally Rooney,’ there’s expectations when people read it. It’s almost like people feel like, oh Naoise [Dolan]and Louisa [Nealon] and Catherine write all the Normal People sequels. This is not the way to see these books”.
“At the end of the day, these books have little to do with each other, other than that they’re about Irish women. There are probably many stories to tell about Irish women, other than the one Sally Rooney wrote.
I tell him that a friend of mine called him TrinLit.
“I think there’s always been people who have been through similar things, creating art about similar things. Besides commercializing that genre, it’s also inspiring. People look and say, she did. I probably could too. And that’s a positive because the biggest hurdle to publishing a book is writing a book and finishing it.”