Author: Sally Rooney
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 5 stars
Read: January 2022
Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life changing begins…Normal People is the story of mutual fascination, friendship, and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find that they can’t.Random House Publishing
Sally Rooney is the millennial darling of the literary world. As Vox so aptly put in a September 2019 article, “…it is now aspirational to be the kind of person who has read Sally Rooney.” It’s true. Bookish Instagram and TikTok periodically blow up with mentions of Rooney’s work, and everyone has an opinion. I mean, just a brief peruse through #NormalPeople on Instagram indicates how divisive and varied the opinions of this book are. Some people love it; others hate it. I, for one, loved it.
I had wanted to dip my toe into the Rooney ruckus for a while when I came across Normal People at an airport bookstore. What better place to buy popular literary fiction than at an airport? (I don’t mean that in a pompous way. I freakin’ love airport bookstores.) I bought the paperback, dug into it a few weeks later, and finished it in two days.
Normal People gave me what I was hungry for; an intimate look into someone else’s life that has been abstracted and allows me to reflect on more prominent themes. Ruminate on how love means pain, how we can inevitably hurt the ones we love. Practically speaking, the relationship between Marianne and Connell is awful. They literally never honestly talk to each other. They never fully let each other go, even though their relationship is toxic. This is all practically speaking. At face value. But I wasn’t reading this book for practicality.
Normal People is a quiet, stark book that puts into words a certain feeling of nostalgia I have recently developed for my past. Reading this book was like longing for the idealized version of my past self. Failing to remember how unsure, awkward, and depressed I was when I was a 20-something in college. Perhaps it’s because the two main characters fall into each other and recede, never achieving certain potentials or possibilities that could have been. What roads were passed, never to be traveled in their lives or mine?
Another interesting aspect I enjoyed was how Rooney uses social class as a nuanced way to analyze relationships and power. Literature has always told stories of love across social classes, but Rooney employed this in a bit of a different way. Marianne and Connell’s social currency ebbs and flows as they go through high school, college, and beyond. It affects the power dynamics of their relationship, and it is always there. In high school, Connell keeps their romance a secret, placing the power in his hands even though Marianne is of a higher class. Once college comes around, Marianne comes into her own while Connell is free-falling, unsure how to adjust. The way this element added so much nuance and layering to the story was satisfying.
Rooney’s writing is deceptively simple, conveying so much with what is not said by her or her characters. I love that. I love when an author can capture a feeling, an urge, a longing in so many words. This whole book made me feel like I was 23 again, sitting at a tiny sunset table somewhere quiet, looking out the window at the 3 PM summer sun, feeling melancholy.
Should You Read It?
You’ll enjoy Normal People if you
– Got through this book review
– Love getting wrecked by some good ass literature
– Enjoy messy, unsatisfying, complicated relationships
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