Every once in a while, I come across a book that changes my perception of what literature can be. A book that isn’t written in the way we’re used to books being written, but still work. Sally Rooney’s Normal People is one of those books.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) 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.
Normal People is my first Sally Rooney novel. And it definitely made an impression. This is one of the most real books I’ve read in a long time. In my experience, life doesn’t always work out. There isn’t always a happy ending, and sometimes things just suck. And I really appreciated seeing that reflected in literature, even though it was pretty painful to read, partly because I identified with it a lot. I felt the awkwardness of my teenage years, and the stupid decisions I made in my twenties (both of which made me cringe with embarrassing flashbacks). This book is about normal people, and I think it’s great.
I can definitely see why people have been talking about this book, because I think it will stay with me for a while. It felt like something new and fresh, even though the subject matter is neither. Which is a pretty big feat to accomplish. I think what really did it for me was the writing style. While there is a lot of dialogue in this book, Rooney doesn’t use quotation marks. Reading this feels like how we experience life. It feels like she is writing the thoughts in my head, and I thought it was a great way to tell this story. It also has the added effect of making the pacing feel both slow and fast at the same time, which I really loved (even though I can’t explain it well). Her writing style just felt organic to the way people live their lives, and it was brilliant.
As for the characters, I didn’t love them. But I think that’s the point. I empathized with them, and rooted for them, but they’re not likable people. Personally, I think it has at least a little to do with the fact that they’re not the kind of people I’d hang out with in real life. We wouldn’t be friends. But I also had the weird experience of seeing my life as it could have been had I made different decisions. I never had the confidence to make bad decisions or take risks, and while I don’t exactly regret that, I did like seeing life through the looking glass. I think a lot of people will see themselves in these characters (which isn’t a bad thing), but I could definitely still appreciate them even if I didn’t identify with them as people. My one complaint is that the ending feels really unsatisfying, but I guess that’s life.
★★★★☆ – I really enjoyed Normal People. I flew through it in two days, and haven’t stopped thinking about it.
I’m really curious to see what you think. Have you read Normal People? Let me know in the comments!
Normal People is available to buy wherever books are sold. You can pick up a copy on Amazon.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Normal People as one of your two free books.
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