Author: Sally Rooney
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First Publication: 2018
Major Characters: Marianne, Connell
Setting Place: Ireland
Theme: Social Status, Love and Personal Growth, Normality, Complicated relationship
Narrator: third person narrative
Book Summary: Normal People by Sally Rooney
At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection 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, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, 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.
Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People by Sally Rooney is about Marianne and Connell, their secret friendship, and their on and off again relationship. They are two young people drawn to each other who drift apart at times, but always end up coming back to each other throughout their lives. It is an intimate, but sometimes painful look at two people from different backgrounds that don’t really belong together. One comes from a loving home, where as the other lives in a cold and hateful environment.
Connell and Marianne start a secret romantic relationship while in high school. Connell is the popular jock who secretly cares what everyone thinks about him. Marianne is the school pariah–the girl who people create myths about.
“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.”
While they both feel alone and misunderstood, together they understand not only one another, but also themselves. When they start University, their roles reverse. No longer forced to keep their relationship a secret, they have other barriers to face–many which are dark and daunting. Both begin to spiral. It is only when they are together that they can face themselves and the world around them.
Normal People by Sally Rooney could have been a whiny, angsty read about two very self-absorbed 18-to twenty-somethings, but the narrative structure and Rooney’s writing elevates the characters and story to another level.
“Generally I find men are a lot more concerned with limiting the freedoms of women than exercising personal freedom for themselves.”
Rooney is strong on the intricacies of relationships – how the influence of one person can shape another person’s whole life, and how little misunderstandings can snowball into major heartbreak. At one point Connell discovers that becoming part of a couple can even validate one’s existence:
“To be known as her boyfriend plants him firmly in the social world, establishes him as an acceptable person, someone with a particular status, someone whose conversational silences are thoughtful rather than socially awkward.”
She is also extremely perceptive about the journey from adolescence into adulthood, that point in your life where you fly the nest to take on the world and finally meet people with the same interests as yours – confident, excited and apprehensive all at once:
“They were coming into college every day to have heated debates about books they had not read.”
The narrative is told through the inner workings of Connell and Marianne’s minds. The reader is privy to their issues and disturbing thoughts. They are awkward and flawed characters, which made them feel very real. I was hoping for more growth, but the glimpse of hope at the end helped me realize that Connell and Marianne were ready to face the future. This is a very dark and disturbing read with some light at the end.
“Life is the thing you bring with you inside your own head.”
Normal People by Sally Rooney is such a sad tale, for these two people thrown together through their young lives, love and care for one another. Problem is one is ever so afraid to let it be known because she feels she deserves abuse, while the other can’t seem to feel he is worthy of anything, especially love. As they grow into young adults their roles reverse as Marianne becomes what Connell once was and Connell becomes what Marianne was.
Normal People by Sally Rooney is a tale of heartbreak and hopelessness. She takes us deep inside her characters, allowing the reader to truly see their melancholy and misery. It’s a story of words unspoken, of thoughts not expressed, of two lives that should have melded together and yet are worlds apart. Neither one of them feels worthy of love, worthy of holding a place on this earth, and the tragedy of this story is that they might never find out that they are destined to be with one another.
Normal People by Sally Rooney got made into a TV series by HULU starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.