‘Mr Salary’ by Sally Rooney

Earlier this year, in an interview with the TLS, novelist Bret Easton Ellis ruminated on why there isn’t a “Great Millennial Novelist or a Great Millennial Short Story Writer.” He’s wrong: there is a Great Millennial Novelist and a Great Millennial Short Story Writer, and they are one and the same: Sally Rooney, author of Conversations with Friends and the Booker-shortlisted Normal People.

‘Mr Salary’ was published by Granta in 2016, shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award in 2017 and will be published as a stand-alone volume by Faber & Faber in 2019. It features four things that I think of as intrinsic to Rooney’s work: Ireland, a relationship in limbo, a young woman who doesn’t quite know how to get what she wants, and characters that feel real enough to buy you a pint.

I read ‘Mr Salary’ in bed one Sunday morning, deep in my hangover, and I suggest you do the same. It introduces 24-year-old Sukie as she returns home to Dublin from university in Boston. She’s met by a family friend, Nathan, who she has lived with on and off since she was 19. Sukie has a hole in her leggings, unwashed hair and a suitcase that’s so naff, Nathan asks if it’s “a joke suitcase”. The unlikely nature of this pseudo-platonic pairing carries the story from Dublin airport to a hospital bed, dipping its toes into Sukie’s past just frequently enough to contextualise the present. ‘Mr Salary’ is really quite an incredible read and the perfect intro to Sally Rooney’s work.

First published in Granta 135: New Irish Writing, April 2016. Available online here to subscribers, and also for free here. Also published as a standalone Faber Story January 2019.

Chosen by Alice Slater. Alice is a writer from London. She’s co-host of literary podcast What Page Are You On? and writes about short stories for Mslexia.