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.