I have an admiration for writers that are able to invoke feelings of nostalgia for a place you’ve never been, who can make your heart race with emotion for a person you’ve never met, and who can do all of that without relying on a complicated plot.
Sally Rooney does just that and more in her latest novel, Normal People. The storyline itself isn’t overly complicated, so I won’t bother diving any deeper than telling you it is about a boy and a girl and their relationship as it progresses through high school and university.
It’s the characters, not the plot, that hooked me here, much like in many of my other favourite stories and movies.
Simplicity is beauty, and yet finding an author who can so eloquently depict the ordinary ins and outs of a regular life with such emotion is rare. As the characters experienced emotions, rejection, humiliation, accomplishment, love, lust, anger, desperation, I felt as though all of those things were happening to me.
On more than a few pages I needed to stop, set the book down and close my eyes. For chapters at a time I had tears in my eyes, and it wasn’t an overly sad book – it was because I was there, I was back in high school, and then university, relating each character to someone I knew, an experience I went through, a heartbreak, a triumph, it was all so real.
I wouldn’t call it an uplifting story, in fact it was quite a dark and lonely story, but such is life at times and I find comfort in relating to others similar experiences.
This book is not for everyone. But it’s perfect for those that it is.
“He seemed to think Marianne had access to a range of different identities, between which she slipped effortlessly. This surprised her, because she usually felt confined inside one single personality, which was always the same regardless of what she did or said. She had tried to be different in the past, as a kind of experiment, but it had never worked. If she was different with Connell, the difference was not happening inside herself, in her personhood, but in between them, in the dynamic.”Sally Rooney – Normal People
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.
Reviewed by: Annie
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