Normal People by Sally Rooney
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.