Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.

Sally Rooney’s second novel is a deeply political novel, just as it’s also a novel about love. It’s about how difficult it is to speak to what you feel and how difficult it is to change. It’s wry and seductive; perceptive and bold. It will make you cry and you will know yourself through it.

Normal People by Sally Rooney is a novel about the two main characters – Marianne and Connell – finding themselves, in amongst some of the trials and tribulations that people of today can go through. It raises the issues of relationships and social status, and explores how it can affect a youth’s experience in school and into adulthood: the good and the bad.  It is a story laden with themes and complex characters, that will still linger in the mind days after the reader has finished reading it.

I think it is fair to write that this book will make the reader relive, at least some parts, of their adolescence. I felt, Rooney knew that these characters would be relatable, and the situations she illustrated, even more so. And, as I think most readers will find that they have been in the shoes of these characters at some point or another, makes this read deeply emotional.  It certainly was for me; it had all the feels. Let me tell you, at one point, I got so angry at Connell, I had to slam the book shut and walk off for 5 minutes to calm down. And then, only a couple of pages later, I was a molten mess on the inside. One minute I was full of pride, and the next minute I was shedding tears.

The novel quite aptly captures what modern society has become, and it further explores how two characters feel about social, political and economic events, past and present. In a way, not only is Rooney documenting them as if the book is a piece of historical fiction from 200 years in the future, but she’s challenging them as if the novel is also an analytical commentary.

The heaviest theme the book has concerns people’s reputations, caring what others think of you, and being consciously aware of where you land in the social status pecking order. The book is a powerful message on how this can, in an essence, corrupt personalities and the very fabric of personal relationships with others.  As well, I adore that Rooney has took aim at what determines people’s likability today, within the social standing.
There is now a blurred line between what is a nice person, and a cool person. To be liked and thus popular, you ought to be cool, being nice is just another thing altogether, maybe even insignificant. It doesn’t matter if you’re nice in the genuine, caring sense, if you don’t fit the cool persona, you’re not “nice”.

I liked the relationship between Marianne and Connell, because it wasn’t perfect and Rooney’s true-to-life dialogue between the characters, made the relationship feel like it would fit in the molds of reality.  It illustrated both the good and the bad, and what both wished had been, and what ought to have been. It’s a beautiful masterpiece laced with sorrow and joy.

I cared deeply for both Marianne and Connell; with my care arising for Marianne largely at the beginning of the book, and my care for Connell developing as the character developed. I cannot applaud Rooney enough for including a character with anxiety, who didn’t even know themselves that’s what it was at times.  I was completely invested in these characters lives. I had to know where their life stories were going, and how Rooney would finish them with the reader.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from Normal People, which shows Rooney’s success in effectively illustrating some the novel’s themes:

He knew then that the secret for which he had sacrificed his own happiness and the happiness of another person had been trivial all along, and worthless.
(p.77)

Everyone was laughing and drinking. It felt nothing like his real life. He didn’t know these people at all, he hardly even believed in them, or in himself.
(p.123)

He would have betrayed any confidence, any kindness, for the promise of social acceptance.
(p.212)

Somehow he was expressing more emotion than at any time in his life before, while simultaneously feeling less, feeling nothing.
(p.214)

If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed.
(p.226)

I rated Normal People 5 stars of goodreads, because I genuinely couldn’t fault the book. I enjoyed it immensely, and devoured it in 3 days. I wholeheartedly agree with a sentiment The Guardian shared about Rooney’s book – that this will become a classic in the years to come. The story reflects how people truly can influence, alter and impact other people’s lives, and for me, it is a true and good reflection of social issues within 21st century society (regarding reputation and identity, and their consequences), and I can’t recommend it enough.

Buy It Now

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Published 29th August 2018 (16th April 2019 for U.S.)
Genre: Contemporary


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