Normal People

Sally Rooney

Normal People
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Normal People

Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life - a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us - blazingly - about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

Review

At just 27, Sally Rooney is one of the most exciting new writers to emerge in recent years. Her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, about a complicated love affair in post-crash Dublin, caused a literary stir when it was released last year, and her second book, Normal People, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize two months before its publication. It’s a deserving pick.

In simplest terms, this is the story of a relationship between two people, Connell and Marianne, from their teens through to adulthood. The novel opens in Marianne’s kitchen as Connell waits for his mother to finish cleaning her family’s glamorous house. We immediately know two things: Marianne is wealthy and Connell is not; Connell is popular and Marianne is not. From there, we see events unfold from their alternating perspectives as they both grow up and learn to navigate others’ expectations, as well as their own.

A premise like this could easily feel trite – damaged rich girl meets good boy from the wrong side of the tracks etc etc – but as with Rooney’s early book, Normal People moves beyond its expected boundaries to operate on multiple levels. This is a love story that is also a nuanced exploration of class, trauma, mental illness, adolescence, friendship, loneliness and the ways in which we change other people’s lives. It is also an extraordinarily intimate novel. Rooney is such a smart and perceptive writer about people. In both her books she demonstrates a remarkable ability to pinpoint and describe emotions in all their complexity and changeability. I cried a few times in this book, simply from the immense feeling contained in the prose. Normal People is the kind of novel that casts a spell over the reader – pick it up and you won’t want to put it down.


Bronte Coates is the digital content coordinator and the Readings Prizes manager.

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