Normal People by Sally Rooney
Published by Hogarth Press on August 28th, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Romance
“It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.”
I was always going to read Normal People this year. Actually, I was saving it to read in May when I was supposed to travel with my friend to Ireland. Well, we all know travel plans were scrapped as we’re in the middle of a pandemic right now!
In Normal People, Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other at school. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and immensely private. But when Connell comes to pick up his mother from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible collection grows between the two teenagers — one they are determined to conceal.
A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically and irresistibly drawn back together.
But as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Let’s get one thing straight here, I completely understand why everybody fawns over Rooney and her books.
In both Conversations with Friends and Normal People, she’s able to capture with such accuracy the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
With razor sharp focus and sparse prose, she explores the experiences of the pain and electricity of a first love or the subtleties of class division.
But what I found most fascinating was Rooney’s clear criticism of how detrimental it can be to feel the need to impress and perform for others. Tragedy strikes when you factor in other people’s opinions, peer pressure, and social expectations.
I loved how simple the story was. It’s a masterclass in how to truly understand characters. Connell and Marianne are both deeply flawed characters, which made the book so real.
Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was or become part of it.
From the dialogue to the experiences these characters have, nothing seemed geared toward achieving that perfect Hollywood ending. It’s certainly a love story, but even though we’re getting glimpses into the timeline of their relationship, it wasn’t an easy “From A to B” story.
Since the relationship dynamics were realistic, you could palpably feel the pain Connell and Marianne go through. There was no veneer on the characters.
I also appreciated that there were varying gaps in the narrative. Sometimes the story would pick up five minutes later or five months later. It felt like each chapter really was a snapshot of their relationship in that period.
I didn’t expect to love these characters so much. Connell and Marianne quickly burrowed their way under my skin. I couldn’t stop caring about them!
But what frustrated me the most stylistically was the lack of quotations. I know it’s Rooney’s signature at this point, but I find it tiring to read.
And I also hated the lack of communication between the pair. I found myself so many times wanting to just shake Marianne and Connell.
Just say what you want to say! So many things were left unsaid between the two. But I guess that’s also very realistic in relationships.
Having read the book and seen the TV show, I have to say that I think this book translates very well onto the screen. In fact, I liked the TV show way better, which I think attributed to my higher rating for the book.
If you’re looking for a quiet character study that’s awkward, weird, and depressing, I’d definitely read Normal People. Sometimes you can’t explain why you’re attracted to someone or why you’re drawn to a book. And I feel like that’s me right now.
But I’d 100% check out the TV show. The actors are wonderful and a lot of it translates directly from the book. But the ending, well, I found it to be more satisfying than the book!
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