Book reviews

It wasn’t all that long ago that every second book reviewer on WordPress was recommending Normal People by Sally Rooney which made me keen to read the story for myself. I’d already read Conversations with Friends and thought it very good.

Normal People, for the other three people left in the world who haven’t already read this book, follows the story of Connell and Marianne who went to school together in a small town in Ireland where Connell was in the popular group and Marianne was a loner who was bullied by everyone, including Connell’s friends. Connell and Marianne got to know each other as Connell’s mother cleaned Marianne’s mother’s house.

Connell and Marianne eventually started a physical relationship which Connell was very keen to hide from his friends. They also connected emotionally but Connell disappointed Marianne when he invited another girl to the school’s social event of the year, the Debs. To say that Connell’s mother was also disappointed by his behaviour towards Marianne was an understatement.

The story continued by jumping ahead to Connell and Marianne meeting again at university. At Trinity their social status was reversed as Marianne, who was well off, had made friends but Connell was struggling socially.

Over the next few years Connell and Marianne were sometimes involved with each other romantically but at other times they were just friends, supporting each other through their complicated relationships with other partners. At all times their friendship remained intense.

Connell and Marianne were complicated people, separately and as a couple. Marianne had been bullied by her peers as a schoolgirl, but also by her family for whom violence was normal. As a result Marianne’s preference was to be a ‘submissive’ in her relationships. This scared Connell as he was all too aware that Marianne would allow him to do anything he wanted to her.

Superficially Connell fitted in wherever he went but privately he struggled with anxiety and depression. Both Connell and Marianne felt they were more like themselves together than they were with anyone else but their misunderstandings and anxiety constantly got in the way of their love affair.

The story was told alternately from Connell and Marianne’s point of view. Their feelings of being unworthy of each other, themselves and others was a constant problem, but although their story was often sad, it was also hopeful in that there was the sense that Connell and Marianne would always be there for each other.

Generally I dislike reading about characters in their late teens or early twenties because I’m not interested in the usual whingy, self-absorbed stuff that dominate characters of this age, but although their story was frustrating to read, I found Connell and Marianne’s characters to be likeable and real.

My only complaint was the lack of punctuation used for dialogue. I might be old-fashioned, but I prefer quotation marks to be used. I recall feeling irritated by this lack in Conversations with Friends too.

So, my question to those of you who have read Normal People, tell me what you think is normal. For me, I think everything and nothing is normal, but Connell and Marianne’s version of normal was interesting.

Comments on: "Normal People by Sally Rooney" (7)

  1. Haven’t read it so I don’t know whether they’re normal or not. I know what you mean about everything and nothing being normal – great way to put it! – but I draw the line at eating another person’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti… πŸ˜‰

  2. I’m one of the three people who hasn’t read this! Maybe one for when I want to get really involved in someone else’s life?

  3. I really disliked the lack of punctuation too in both those books. I find it pretentious and gets in the way of reading it. Aside from this, I thought it was overhyped – Normal People particularly – and really found it a struggle to get through. My negative review was very popular though. Glad you are one of the readers who enjoyed the book πŸ˜€

  4. Human liver with fava beans and a nice chianti isn’t for me, either, Clarice.

  5. Maybe! The book was everywhere at first, which makes it all the more interesting to wait another five years to see if it is still ‘known.’

  6. Yes, exactly! I wish I’d said that about the punctuation in my review of Normal People.
    I’m off to re-read yours now. I know I’ve already read it, but there is a particular pleasure in reading a review when you have also read the book.

  7. I’m not going to read any more of hers but I’m glad that I read those two, so that I can discuss it with others πŸ™‚ I like reading review of books I’ve read, as I’m interested in whether the reviewer shared my opinion.

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