Normal People by Sally Rooney
Published by: Faber & Faber
Rating: 4/5 stars
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.
This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.
About the author:
Sally Rooney is an Irish author. Her debut novel, ‘Conversations with Friends’
was nominated for the 2018 Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize and the 2018 Folio Prize. Her second novel, ‘Normal People’ was Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction and won the Costa Book Award for the Novel category.
Sally Rooney’s debut ‘Conversations with Friends’ looked at the underlying currents of what it means to be privileged, how intellectual thoughts and beliefs can be so contrary to one’s standing in society. It lay bare how young people grapple with the idea and contours of fidelity, love, sex and intimacy.
‘Normal People’ might well be seen as a story of two young people in their journey to near adulthood and beyond but Rooney makes it a whole lot more than that in the way she writes about the push and pull that happens between people in relationships, what factors or non factors matter or don’t matter to the people involved. So we have Connel and Marianne who start out in the same school – the former’s single mother works as the help at Marianne’s house. The two are on unequal footings throughout the course of the story: one is popular in school, the other seen as weird and then in later course of events, the situation turns after school. One thing remains constant: the bond between the two which grows and fades, resurrects and mutate over time, place, misunderstandings and situations they find themselves in.
The spotlight remains firmly on Connel and Marianne in a way that the two seem to be marooned away together from other people and when they do engage and interact with other characters, it is mostly in a way that leaves at bitter, at times painful, other times a traumatic tint on their relationship to one another. It’s only Connel’s mother who brings a warm and embracing presence on the two main protagonists.
The writing is contemporary in the way it is about the angst that drives young people today: societal expectations and role stereotypes, the pressure to keep up appearances, the way social media appears to keep everyone connected even as individuals suffer alone and unsure of themselves. Rooney’s writing effortlessly plumbs the space and the thoughts between two people in a relationship stripping away the layers of romance and peeling out the platitudes. Rather, it pins down the dynamics of how ties are formed or dissolved and why under the weight of small little things that becomes big in the long run.
Go for this if you love to read beyond what happens in the story and if you are prepared to ponder over the many contours that takes shape and form once you allow yourself to do so.