Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

21 May 2020


Hello Readers & Friends,

Okay, I know I'm waaaay behind the times with this one. Normal People was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2018 and recently a popular TV adaption has been released. Everybody has been raving about the show, but me being me had to read the book before watching it.

So after a raving review from my friend Kate, I downloaded it on Kindle and 2 hours later here we are. I gave it 4.5 stars - 5 on GoodReads.

I think it's a beautiful story about class divides, love, vulnerability, abuse and pain. I went into it having no clue what to expect, and was happy to find it's set in Ireland, which is sadly quite rare. It follows the relationship between Marianne, from wealth, and Connell, working class. Bonded by their intellect and political interests, it begins with them in school and follows their crossing paths through university and beyond.

I found it to be very sad, at times quite frustrating, but always realistically bleak. It's a great depiction of a 21st century romance between two broken spirits looking for comfort and stability and too afraid to commit to each other in case of rejection. Marianne is a loner and reject at school, somewhat coming into herself at college, whereas Connell goes from effortless popularity at school to feeling out of place and lost at uni.

I think ultimately it's a story about hope, and the power of connection. It uses simple, confident prose that hit the message home with elegance, skipping out the la-la-flourish and lit-fic fluff that I've struggled to enjoy with literary fiction titles, such as The Goldfinch. In this case, less really is more, and a simple description of the way Marianne rolls her eyes says more than a paragraph of monologue and inner-thoughts could hope to achieve.

Still from TV adaption

 The only thing that bothered me was that Rooney uses no quotation marks. This drove me insane, and it took me half the book before I got used to reading dialogue with no speech marks without concentrating doubly hard. For me it interrupted the flow and made it more difficult to follow than it needed to be - I can't see any positives to writing dialogue without quotation marks and after a quick Google, can't find an answer for why this was done. If anybody knows why she did this, let me know!

An example from page 1:

Marianne was telling me you got your mock results today, Lorraine says.
We got english back, he says. They come back separately. Do you want to head on?
Lorraine folds the rubber gloves up neatly and replaces them below the sink.

So you can see that it's a little bit harder to follow who is saying what, though my brain did climatise to it eventually. It also would have been nice to see more Irish dialect and lexicon, but I appreciate this could be isolating and not so inclusive, particularly for American readers.

Looking on GoodReads I can see a lot of people didn't enjoy the story, and found it perhaps monotonous or faux-tragic. But at under 300 pages covering a span of half a decade I don't think anything is dragged out or too slowly paced. I could relate to aspects of both the main characters, but particularly Connell. I think that if you look at it as a fictional study of self-confidence and broken characters, and not as a love story, it's something truly special.

I can't wait to watch the TV series now!

Love, C x

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