This book has been on my radar for most of last year, but for some reason or another, it’s taken a bit of time for me to get around to reading it. Sally Rooney has won many awards and has been short-listed for even more, so I guess I’m not alone in picking this book up and in pouring through its pages. If I think about it, it’s been years since I read a book from an Irish author (I find there is a different way in which they author books)- my last book by an Irish author was Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, which has stayed with me for years. Because of this, I was super thrilled to read a book from an up and coming author, this month’s book review, we break down Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Read on and see what we thought.
Connell and Marianne are polar opposites or so we’re lead to believe, he is athletic and popular, she is rich, withdrawn and the class loner. Their only connection is the fact that Connell’s mother, Lorraine, cleans Marianne’s house and to the outside world and the people of their town, he pretends he doesn’t know her. Till he begins to speak to her and finds a connection neither one of them seems to be able to explain. As their journeys shifts, they both move away to university, Marianne “reinvents” herself, becoming popular and he becomes the “loner” which begins to test their friendship. The book follows their journey from the end of high school to them concluding their college years. But their journey isn’t linear, it follows the years, in clusters of months at a time, as they fall away from each other and inexplicably propel towards each other at the same time.
You should go, she says. I’ll always be here. You know that.Sally Rooney- “Normal People”
Break it Down:
The characters are complex, interesting, flawed and infuriating all at the same time. It’s one of those things where everyone knows they belong together and they can’t seem to keep away from each other, the author describes that something changes within them when they are around the other, yet they seem to take turns messing up their relationship almost for the fun of it. They seem to have a dependency on each other and from my perspective as certain times I fully supported it. The abusive Marianne endures with her family, undoubtedly affects her, this then plays out in her relationships, but what I struggled with is the fact that Connell always showed her his support, so I couldn’t understand her need to keep sabotaging her relationship with him. She seemed to think she wasn’t worthy of a healthy, “normal” relationship, whether it’s because she’s reserving that for Connell or she actually believes love is shown through violence or dysfunction. There is a scene towards the end of the book when she asks Connell to hit her, he is so disgusted by the question, but she is also upset that he wouldn’t do it. Her willingness to be used as a tool for the pleasure of other’s and in the process make her fill more of a void; I really struggled with. I think she was filled with so much self-loathing, she believed if she could make people happy, in whichever way that arose then things would feel different inside her, but they never do. From Jamie, the boyfriend who liked to slap, beat and choke her, to the Swedish guy who liked to blindfold and tie her up, to the boyfriend who berated and insulted her in front of her friends, it was all stomach turning and also blood boiling to read.
While Marianne walks around seemingly immune to caring what others think of her, Connell is the very opposite. He is constantly thinking about how he appears to the outside world and internally falling apart in the process. Painfully anxious and nervous- he seems to feel it all and the only person he can confide in is Marianne. Despite that, he still chooses to keep her somewhat at arm’s length, especially when they get to college. He is then included into her “world” and feels so acutely out of place and so unworthy, that when he realizes he will struggle to pay his rent for the summer, instead of telling Marianne the truth, he chooses to end things with her and move back to their hometown in order to avoid confiding in her. He is a writer but is so fearful of putting his work out there, he becomes incredibly anxious and only agrees for it to be published under a pseudonym. As much as this book is about two people who can’t deny they belong together, they are also equally bad for the other in the same respects, they do damage to each other, then “move on”, only to come back after time has elapsed to patch the damaged areas and do it all again.
The time shifts take a bit of getting used to, especially when it left you on a cliff hanger in the previous section- written very much in the style of David Nicholls’ “One Day”, which follows the same time hopping premise. The difference here is how sporadic of the time hops are, but I feel like it was done right and it was enough to of an update to keep you hungry to read through, but also realistic enough to make it true to life.
The RnR Rating:
4.5 out of 5.
Would I recommend the book?:
Yes, the penmanship and the way its written is wonderful and so different. I found myself craving the updates as the author jumped from weeks or months ahead within the book. Definitely worth the read!