In My Good Books: ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney

I was excited to read Sally Rooney’s second novel as it was acclaimed a best seller of 2018. Normal People follows the intertwined lives of Marianne and Connell as they battle with social politics, sexual maturation and their own thoughts. I think the name of this novel truly encapsulates the narrative, as while seemingly little occurs in this novel, it recounts the intricate relationship of two “normal people” who experience the roller-coaster of maturation and romance. Yet, while this novel is somewhat simplistic, it is also wonderfully intimate as Rooney delves into the taboo and dark aspects of both protagonists mind.  Whether you are looking for a romantic whirlwind or a psychological page-turner, Normal People will not disappoint.

Normal People begins in a rural town in Ireland in which Marianne exists in an affluent, yet abusive, family setting. Connell’s mother is the cleaner for Marianne’s family, hence the two frequently cross paths. However, at school Connell occupies the top of the social ladder while Marianne is barely recognised as a life form. Marianne is immediately characterised as wonderfully unique, as her lack of popularity does not faze her and she passes her time by following international political and social issues. Connell and Marianne begin a sexual relationship, yet their relationship remains a secret from the vicious social world in which they live. It becomes clear to the reader that their relationship contains more than just lust, yet the pair seem unable to confront the truth of their feelings, as to do so would constitute social suicide for Connell. Both Connell and Marianne attend university in Dublin, and the power dynamic reverses as Marianne is attractive and personable, while Connell is introverted and awkward. The narrative then follows the various relationships and highs and lows of each character’s life. Fundamentally, Normal People provides an in-depth look into relations: social relations, romantic relations and familial relations.

Rooney’s novel can be described as a modern classic as it envelopes issues of casual relationships, sexual disharmony and mental health. The character of Marianne provides a tragic narrative in regards to her nonchalant mother and abusive brother. Marianne is an utterly independent character, yet her relationships with men reveal the deep rooted issues that result from her brutish upbringing. Hence Rooney provides an interesting, yet heart-breaking, psychological twist to the novel as the reader sees Marianne’s constant self-depreciation. Similarly, despite the reader’s initial impression of Connell, he ultimately reveals himself to be a profound character. While at university Connell becomes a quiet and self-conscious character as he internalises his passion for literature and suppressed feelings for Marianne. Ultimately, Normal People consists of a superb breakdown of the lives and thoughts of young people in the 21st century.

Normal People has been the first novel I have read in 2019, and it has definitely been great start to my year. Fundamentally, Normal People is a fantastic exploration of the journey of two people, as Rooney truly captures intense intimacy and interiority. The simplicity of the plot allows the reader to truly understand the characters of Marianne and Connell, as we see how they support and change each other for the better. The novel depicts the difficulty of speaking one’s mind while also portraying the undeniable strength of both Marianne, who finally escapes her abusive family, and Connell, as he battles with his mental health. Hence Rooney perfectly captures the confusion and turmoil of adolescent life in a simultaneously endearing and heart-breaking novel.

– Hattie Hansford 

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