Updated: Feb 17, 2020
I recently finished Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Oh my goodness, let me tell you, it was not what I expected going in. I expected a romantic story of two people trying to find their way back to each other. Well, this book really wasn’t that. Like, really wasn’t. At all. Thanks to @randomhouse #partner for my review copy!
This book starts with introducing Connell and Marianne, two classmates at an Irish high school who couldn’t be more different. Connell is a smart, popular jock raised by a single mother, while Marianne is a wealthy loner living with her dysfunctional family. She is constant fodder for the school’s gossip mill. When they form an unlikely friendship, both are surprised at the connection they find with each other.
After high school, both Connell and Marianne find themselves at the same school, Trinity College in Dublin; however, their roles have been reversed. Marianne has found her path in college and is popular and social, while Connell struggles to make friends and shyly hangs back in social situations. Still, the connection between the two remains, and they quickly rekindle their friendship. And more.
What follows is the story of two people drawn to each other and connected with each other in an inexplicable way. Their story is heart-wrenching and frustrating. And it is dark. There is no other way to put it. At times you will find yourself rooting for Connell and Marianne and at other times, you just want to scream at them.
Rooney has the ability to examine the physical and psychological toll a life lived in fear can take on a relationship and a person. Her writing is sparse, but impactful and it leaves the reader thinking about the characters long after the book is finished. She is willing to write what most of us are only brave enough to think, and that is remarkable.
Normal People won’t be for everyone. It is not a novel that ties up loose ends or creates a pulse-pounding plot that builds to a satisfying conclusion. Instead, this book is for readers who like a slow-burn and an intense study of characters who are extremely flawed but trying their best to make it in a world that has not been kind. This book also speaks to the power of connection and what it means to love someone unconditionally. So, while I liked it, I wouldn’t recommend it for all readers.
Bottom Line: 4/5 It wasn’t what I expected, but I really felt for these characters and appreciate the way Rooney developed their story.
P.S. Hulu is making a drama series based on Normal People coming this year! Read about it here.