Normal People by Sally Rooney
Published by Hogarth on April 16, 2019 (originally 2018)
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg: 4.08 (as of 2019-05-09)
At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.
A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
While I knew from the start that this book would be different than anything I had experienced before, I had no idea how much I would love it. Normal People tells the story of Connell and Marianne, two very different people who somehow just keep meeting. It begins while they’re in secondary school and spans the course of their university careers. At its heart, this is the story of two people whose lives cannot untangle.
Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening.
While their relationship is often not quite healthy, I really rooted for them to be together. Sally Rooney writes in such a way that you can understand them both even while condemning their actions. Oftentimes their conflicts are the result of miscommunications that could have easily been avoided by pressing one another further rather than making assumptions. Deep down, they both care quite deeply about each other and none of the hurt is intentional.
Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence?
I found myself repeatedly caught up in the depth of emotion I felt while reading this. Sometimes I would have to put it down for a moment, breathless, as I contemplated the characters and their situations and the parallels I was able to draw to my own life. I nearly wept at the closing page, but at the same time felt buoyed by its message. I’d say I thought my reaction to this was just me, but everyone else in my Women’s Prize group also gave the book 5 stars.
Life offers up these moments of joy, despite everything.
Sally Rooney is really something else. I was worried my expectations for her were a bit too high, but she still managed more than I could have even hoped for. I have a copy of Conversations With Friends sitting on my shelf at work that I cannot wait to dig into. If you were thinking about picking up Normal People, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
The Silence of the Girls