Review: Normal People

Posted 9 October, 2019 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Normal People
By: Sally Rooney
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

Connell Waldron is one of the most popular boys in his small-town high school–he is a star of the football team and an excellent student, and he is never wanting for attention from girls. The one thing he doesn’t have is money. Marianne Sheridan, a classmate of Connell’s, has the opposite problem. Marianne is plain-looking, odd, and stubborn, and while her family is quite well off, she has no friends to speak of. There is, however, a deep and undeniable connection between the two teenagers, one that develops into a secret relationship.

Everything changes when both Connell and Marianne are accepted to Trinity College. Suddenly Marianne is well liked and elegant, holding court with her intellectual friends, while Connell hangs at the sidelines, not quite as fluent in the language of the elite. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle each other, falling in and out of romance but never straying far from where they started. And as Marianne experiments with an increasingly dangerous string of boyfriends, Connell must decide how far he is willing to go to save his oldest friend.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a novel that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the inescapable challenges of family and friendships. Normal People is a book that you will read in one sitting, and then immediately jump up to share with your friends.

I’ve been eyeing this book for a while now, ever since it hit the circuit and everyone was raving about it. Almost picked it up on a few occasions but for whatever reason never went through with it until it went on sale over the summer on Kobo. Seemed to be on the short end so I decided to read it for a change of pace (I was reading a lot of economics towards the end of summer). Contains some minor spoilers ahead!

Well now, this book. It was honestly an uncomfortable read in that it perfectly encapsulates what relationships are like in this day and age, the lack of commitment and the gray areas that follow even though everything else is there: the sexual, the emotional, the intellectual connection. Half the time I was just incredibly frustrated how Connell and Marianne can’t seem to work it out, and yet it’s also incredibly human how we seem to self-sabotage ourselves along the way in trying to get what we want; both Connell and Marianne do it plenty of times over the course of their teenage years and into their early twenties, and I was getting irritated at both of them at equal turns, but it’s human. We all do it. But I did find myself worrying how this seems to be the general trend these days, these gray areas and new terms to relationships and halfway points and whatever; just look at all the articles out there, the terminology that’s come up in the last ten years (but I digress).

I did find the book to be a bit of a mess, which I guess again is akin to our contemporary age. There’s just so much thrown in here–the grayness in intimate relationships, the politics–but what felt especially jarring was the late inclusion of Connell’s fragile mental health spiralling into a depression that felt almost coming out of nowhere. The time jumps here did not help at all as we’re catching up with these characters at certain stages and turning points in their lives, but the progression seemed a little muddled; I actually thought he had a physical medical condition with the earlier health scares he experienced but now I see that what he was actually experiencing was some serious panic attacks.

In retrospect, I found myself thinking: being in university can get pretty obnoxious, wouldn’t it? Maybe it depends what field you were in, but wow, when the friends came together and just had these very cold and rational discussions about paradigms and theories and whatnot…It was interesting, but at the end of the day you have to live your life and no paradigm can explain how to proceed from there.

Overall Normal People was an interesting read, captures certain trends in society and life these days with a rather uncomfortable clarity. I think it was pretty timely that I read this book when I did as well because there were some thoughts that I’ve been mulling over at the time that this book raised. Should you read it? Yeah, sure, if you’re into contemporary literary reads. Might be a frustrating read if you’re outside of the age group that Connell and Marianne are living through, but still a very interesting read.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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2 Responses to “Review: Normal People”

  1. As someone in her 50’s, I can say that it’s not just a contemporary thing – the murky, greyness of young adult relationships. This book brought back so many memories of my late teen/early 20’s, thankfully not quite as dramatic as Connell and Maggie, but the feelings of confusion, insecurity and greyness were very familiar. I just wish I could go back to my younger self (& to C & M) and tell them that becoming an adult is an ongoing, lifetime process. Your 20’s are just the beginning of it. Do the best you can to get through it, because the rest of your life is long and you have plenty of time to enjoy the hard stuff you endure early on.

    Enough soap box – time to go to work 🙂

    Great review – thanks. I enjoyed being reminded of why I found this book such a powerful book.

  2. There was definitely a lot of angst and frustration with the characters but like you said, their interactions, relationship (and all the grey areas) are so real. I don’t know what it says about me (lol) but I really related to Marianne and Connell’s characters. This one really hit me harder than I expected (I didn’t think I’d like it coz I wasn’t a fan of Rooney’s debut). Great review! Kinda makes me wanna read this one again now 🙂

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