I looked the other day and I’m absolutely flying through the list of books I said I hoped to read this year (though my Classics Challenge reading has taken a hit). I think I’m enjoying reading a lot more than I have in ages, plus it’s the perfect distraction from the news! One of the books I said I’d read, especially after I saw it was being adapted for the BBC, was Normal People by Sally Rooney.
I wasn’t really sure what to make of this book before reading it. Even now, as I wrote this review, I’m still really unsure about how I feel about this book.
At school, Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, she’s lonely, proud and intensely private. But, when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange connection emerges between the two teenagers – one they’re both desperate to conceal.
A year later, they’re both studying in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet, whilst Connell is sitting on the sidelines. Throughout their years in college, the two circle each other, straying towards other people and situations but always magnetically coming back to each other. Then, as she veers towards self destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
The cover and title gave little away where this book was concerned.
Marianne is fiery, funny but also deeply troubled and Connell is funny, popular but also self aware (at least at times). The two characters that Rooney has created are equal parts annoying and endearing. I spent half of the book rooting for them, the other half screaming at them. I liked the fact that, even though they come from different sides of the social hierarchy, they both had similar anxieties about wanting to be liked and doing the right thing for themselves- and for each other.
Rooney presents a relationship over time. It is a relationship that is driven by the physical aspects at first, as there’s a lot of sex talk in this book, but it becomes more emotional as time goes on. I had a love-hate feeling with the relationship between Connell and Marianne. It was one of those relationships that was bound to happen but I really disliked how they treated each other and how they thought of themselves whilst in the relationship.
I liked the fact that each chapter was us revisiting the characters one week, one month, one year after the previous one. Though it was annoying to navigate sometimes, and I had to go back and forth on a few occasions to refresh what had happened, it was interesting to see how the characters and their relationship changed over time. It felt more real and flowed more easily than other books I’ve read which seem stuck in one time scale.
Another thing I liked was the fact that Rooney gives us two characters who are in touch with their emotions. I think too often books with love stories are all happy and, honestly, that’s not always realistic. Even though it made the book a heavy read, I think it was good to see characters who are vulnerable and not always happy. It really meant that we got what the book says on the tin: normal people.
I wasn’t keen on Rooney’s prose style, unfortunately. Though it was good how she jumped from one time frame to another, I felt like I wanted more description, more detail and I really wanted some speech marks. I think the decision on Rooney’s part to omit speech marks made it difficult to read as, unless you’re really paying attention (or she kindly supplies us with “he said” or “she said”), it took me ages to figure out who said what.
Saying that, I think it was an interesting look at two complicated people and their equally complicated relationship over time.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Alternatively, what are you reading? I’d love to chat in the comments 😊.
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