At Trinity College Dublin everyone wants to be Sally Rooney. The success of her novels Normal People and Conversations with Friends about students falling in and out of love at the university has inspired imitators. Lots of them. Dublin’s coffee shops and bars are packed with hunched proto-Rooneys clattering away at their laptops in a race to complete the next voice-of-a-generation bestseller. The Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly is scoured suspiciously for signs of threatening new talent. Even conversation is self-consciously Rooney-esque: love, late capitalism, the moral sympathy of George Eliot.

This, at least, was the picture painted by Susie, the Trinity student who volunteered to show me around the university’s severely handsome 18th-century campus before it was closed down in mid-March because of the coronavirus. She gestured exuberantly at the courtyard in front of us and declared: “It’s an absolute phenomenon!”

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