Normal People by Sally Rooney.

This novel made me nostalgic, it frustrated me and by the end I couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it.

normal people

I read this novel over a day and a half. It usually takes me at least a week now to get through a novel, time permitting. I found myself wanting to keep reading, so it certainly didn’t bore me.  Far from it.

It was the writing and the plot that had me a bit discombobulated at times.  Rooney’s style is so pared back, so effortlessly simple, that sometimes you wonder if it is any good at all, and yet it is this which makes it so brilliant.

The characters frustrated me at times.  So melodramatic, but then again, we are dealing with youth and perhaps I have forgotten how intensely you feel things at that age?

The plot centres around Marianne and Connell.  We first meet them when they are at school.  Marianne is a loner at school and not popular.  Connell is popular.  Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house, so we are immediately aware of the class difference.

The two develop a friendship which develops into something altogether more complicated.

We follow them as they both go to Trinity College in Dublin where money and class matter.

I think what bothered me about this novel is that Marianne is clearly suffering from some very serious psychological issues, brought about by the abuse, both physical and psychological, dished out regularly from her mother and brother.   We never get an insight into why they are so horrendously abusive towards her.  Also, surely to God someone in her circle would have spotted this and insist she get help?

Yet instead her friends seem happy to ignore this – she finds she is in the right social class at Trinity and develops a large group of friends.  If anything, some of her friends seem as damaged as she is.    It’s just not ‘normal’ life!   Perhaps this is the point that Rooney is making, that people slip through the gaps.  But Marianne is far from stupid.  How can she be so blinded to the trauma she has experienced, and why doesn’t she do anything about it?

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.  Of course, the drama in the book relies on Marianne and Connell being equally dysfunctional in their own ways, but I felt this was both a bit oversimplified and a bit overdone on occasion.

What I loved about this novel was the dialogue, which is subtle, witty and extremely clever.  I also loved how Marianne and Connell’s relationship developed, then suffered a serious setback, when Connell does something unforgivable, and how Rooney slowly revealed the long road to whether it would recover, thrive or die.   A fascinating roller-coaster of power struggles, and the thin line between love and hate.

Like ‘Conversations with Friends’ this is a novel that I would love to re-read and no doubt will.  Rooney’s novels have a way of staying in your head, causing you to dwell on the characters, their lives, and in turn you remember your own fraught youth, first loves etc.  For me, that is the greatest compliment a novelist can receive – to make the reader question life, love and our place in the world.  In this, Sally Rooney fully succeeds.