It feels like a long, long time since I’ve set foot in a bookshop that didn’t have copies of Normal People by Sally Rooney on prominent, in-yer-face, no chance you’ll miss it display.
I have never seen so many sardine cans, so frequently in my life.
And in all that long, long time of in-yer-face displays, I was curious, if sceptical, about Normal People. I lost count of the number of times I picked it up, put it down, picked it back up, placed it back down again, added to cart, deleted from cart – unsure if a book that hyped could live up to its impressive reputation.
And you know what? I actually think it can.
‘Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying -something life-changing begins. Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.’
Most of the commentary around the book seems polarised. You either get it or you don’t. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a seering insight into millenial relationships or over-hyped millenial angst stretched to nearly 300 pages. Marmite.
In all honesty? I didn’t love it. But I certainly didn’t hate it.
I liked it a lot. I enjoyed its emotional roller-coaster and was kinda hypnotized by Connell and Marianne’s angsty ways.
Sally Rooney delicately captures the push and pull, the fascinations and repulsions, desire, love, confusion, pride, shame, misunderstandings, and vulnerabilities that plague their relationship. They’re strangely spellbound by one another, but they’re also never quite on the same page and never quite singing from the same hymn sheet. They’re riddled with misgivings and shame, constantly conveying/perceiving the wrong message, always sure of their unsureness.
It’s painful to read, as well as weirdly comforting.
The book does feel like it misses the mark at times, though. Marianne’s character arc is ultimately unsatisfying; a let down, almost. There are things that jar and things that don’t sit quite right. The ending, also, is frustrating – even if it has a degree of inevitability.
But I liked it. Really liked it.
So, if you see that infamous sardine can and find yourself wondering: should I?
I would say: yes, yes you should.
6 thoughts on “Reads – Normal People”
I haven’t read the book but it sounds like there is a regional flavor (small town in the west of Ireland). I’m currently reading a collection of short stories by Annie Proulx set in the western U.S. Think hard-scrabble cowboy land. They’re not cowboy stories but they’re as rough as the landscape that serves as the background. My own writing is influenced by my Appalachian home and heritage. So my question to you is this, do you find yourself drawn to books set in worlds different than your own, or do you enjoy the comforts of home more?
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Ooh interesting question! I do love reading about places close to my home and heart, and probably gravitate towards stories set in them without even realising it, but I do also try to make sure I read outside of my comfort/geographical/cultural/genre zone as I think experiencing stories from all walks of life is so important. How about you?
A few years ago I read some Maeve Binchy and enjoyed the cultural change. Same with Khaled Housseini. Very different worlds from what I’m used to. I just took a quick look at my Goodreads list. Some of my favorite books are set in a variety of cultures and classes. And some of my favorite are very close to home. So yeah, I agree with you. Mixing it up and having different experiences is a good thing.
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Yes, I think a balanced book diet is the best way!
I’m one of the people who love it. I think it’s been a long time since I read a book that stayed true to its characters or people. Although frustrating to read I understand or at least could see where Marianne and Connell got the reasoning behind many of their actions.
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I agree, the characters stay true to themselves throughout the book – it was painful to read at times, but I was definitely sympathetic to their reasonings and thought all their actions were foreshadowed clearly by Sally Rooney. She perfectly captured how difficult some relationships can be!