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.
“No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.”
I think it’s fair to say I’ve fallen in love with Sally Rooney. Having really enjoyed listening to “Conversations with Friends”, I knew that I had to give her second novel “Normal People” a try. It’s highly praised and has received a ton of nominations for some big literary awards.
I listened to the audiobook version of this story, again narrated by Aoife McMahon. In both books I really enjoyed the narration and I think that McMahon’s voice is a perfect match to these two stories.
In this story, Connell and Marianne start a secret relationship with one another whilst in school. They live in a tiny Irish village and whilst Connell is a cool and popular football player, Marianne is quite the opposite, but somehow they understand each other. “Normal People” follows these two teenagers to university and then through their twenties, each taking their own separate paths and finding their way back to one another again and again. But don’t take this to mean that this is a soppy romance novel!
For me this was a really powerful, compelling character study, exploring human nature. These characters are so flawed that they become likeable and feel real and if they were real people, they wouldn’t feel out of place amongst my friends. Their relationship is complex and the couple’s inability to communicate their thoughts and feelings to each other highlights so much more than poor communication skills. The author uses these characters to show us how prevalent things like gender inequality, traditional social norms and class discrimination still are in today’s society.
This was a great read for me and I’m really glad to have found it on my quest for a new audiobook. I also finished this just in time for the new 12 part TV series which has had international success. Having loved the book I had such high hopes and am so glad with how it all turned out on screen.
Overall rating: “Normal People” is an authentic, contemporary novel about romance, friendship and working out who you are and want to be. I enjoyed the narration and the style of writing is right up my street. Another 5 stars!
See my other reviews of books by Sally Rooney here: