Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

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There’s a lot to admire about this novel. The writing for one is wonderful. It’s quite different although you’ll need to get used to the lack of dialogue punctuation. But I liked this touch, as if listening in on a conversation. There are lots of detail which puts you right into the world of two young people, Marianne and Connor. We’re taken into key moments in their lives identified by the chapter headings of two months later, six months etc. You might also be surprised as I was that it’s not set in America but in Ireland.

Now, for a bit of background. Marianne is friendless and alone in high school with a poor home life, despite being wealthy. She’s the odd one out and is ostracised by everyone. Connor on the other hand is one of the popular boys at school and he fits in well. The class difference is stark as Connor’s mum is Marianne’s family cleaner. At school they pretend not to know each other but a relationship between them builds. He’s desperate to keep their relationship a secret for fear of ridicule but she doesn’t care. This changes when they leave home and go to the same University where being the odd one is cool and popular while Connor struggles to fit in.

Their relationship and the power dynamics between the two, twists and turns from sexual to friendship and back again. Apart, they’re different people and struggle with their own angst about their identity and how they fit into the world. What happened in Marianne’s family is teased out slowly until we understand her more, although I failed to understand why her mother was so against her. Together, they’re better people but can’t seem to communicate clearly about what they want and this becomes a pattern in their relationship. At times this feels frustrating and I can see why it has polarised some readers. About three-quarters of the way through I was getting restless and then I was pulled in again.

There are dark themes tackled and there’s been a lot written about the ending which I enjoyed. It was as it should have been. The subject matter of young love and angst may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s one to read simply because it’s very well done. Long listed for a host of prizes including the Booker, it really is a good read, skilfully written.

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