"The highly anticipated second novel from the most talked-about novelist in years.
Sally Rooney set the books world buzzing with her debut Conversations With Friends; Normal People is a girl-meets-boy story with a difference, interrogating the difficulties of sincere communication in a complicated, post-ironic world. It's even more unusual and assured than her first book."
Sally Rooney's Normal People is beautifully written although a little slow at times, it's a novel full of deep emotions, which sometimes made it a difficult read.
Connell and Marianne are at high school together and his mother works as a cleaner for her family. Marianne is a bit of a laughing stock in school, mainly because she doesn't care what her classmates think of her whereas Connell is tremendously affected by what people think of him, so when a connection starts to grow between him and Marianne, and turns to something physical and even emotional, they keep it hidden, and he ignores her in school.
"At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it surprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he's going to do it, he catches her."
Marianne feels so intensely for Connell, and she is willing to let him possess her completely. He can't explain his feelings for Marianne, except that she thinks so highly of him, but he continues to fear what his peers would think if they knew what was going on. He winds up treating her badly, leaving her to deal with her own emotional distress.
One year later, both are studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Connell feels uneasy, no longer the popular fellow he was in high school, and has difficulty relating to his peers and fitting in. Marianne, on the other hand, is comfortable in this world, enjoying deep conversations about the political and economic issues facing society, and being looked at as an object of desire, not ridicule by her fellow students. No matter what other opportunities present themselves, the pair finds themselves drawn to each other once again, enjoying the way their interactions make them feel yet falling into the same patterns which cause friction.
"Marianne had a wildness that got into him for a while and made him feel that he was like her, that they had the same unnameable spiritual injury, and that neither of them could ever fit into the world. But he was never damaged like she was. She just made him feel that way."
Normal People follows Marianne and Connell through their time at college, through different relationships and the periodic circling back to one another, whether solely for friendship or something else. Each chapter, with a few exceptions, takes place a few months after the last one. But Marianne's penchant for self-destruction and Connell's inability to cope with the emotional stresses he faces leave them both unsure what their relationship should be and could be, if anything.
Marianne's feeling she is unworthy of being loved without abuse or mistreatment, and the way she is treated by her family, boyfriends, and others, is very difficult to read about at times. Connell's bouts with depression are also quite painful to read, so at times this book felt very heavy.
Like many books which focus on relationships, at times I wanted to shake both characters to make them say the things they wanted to, to each other and other people in their lives. It is an emotional read, but worth it!
Read along with us.
Next month we will discuss Stoner by John Williams
Have a look at our previous reads within our book club.