Normal People is a book I have been looking forward to reading for a little while. The second novel from Sally Rooney, it’s a book that needs little introduction, having been chosen as the Waterstones book of the year, as well as winning the Costa novel award and appearing on the Man Booker Prize long list…
Normal People follows the relationship between two people who grew up in the same, small Irish town, but who come from very different walks of life. Marianne is from a wealthy background, but is somewhat awkward socially, and finds herself ostracised from her classmates. In contrast, Connell is from working class beginnings, but is more popular with his peers. This social hierarchy within the school suggests that Connell and Marianne should not associate with one and other. However, as Connell’s mother Lorraine works as a cleaner for Marianne’s family, the pair end up making conversation in the kitchen, signalling the beginning of a relationship which we then see adapt through the years, as these two teenagers evolve through school, university and beyond. I was drawn to this story immediately, and was gripped by Marianne and Connell’s relationship to the point where I couldn’t put this book down.
I became so captivated by this book and from the opening chapters I knew that this would become one of my favourite novels of recent years. I thought that this was a perfectly written love story, which effectively captures the range and complexity of human emotions. This can be seen through the way that the pair responded to each other in those early days, two young people developing a bond with each other when those around them seem against it. I was interested in the contrast between them, their differing backgrounds exploring themes of social status and class, and how the two continue to be drawn together despite their differences. We see Marianne and Connell through these school days and beyond, with the narrative moving forward in varying levels of time, during which we see a shift in social status, and the impact of further relationships that develop over the years. These moments are well portrayed with Rooney being able to convey their feelings through the simplest of acts, such as a single glance or touch, as we get a glimpse of these interior emotions, as they navigate their feelings towards each other. It is a story that explores how people change, and how difficult this can be. And at its heart is a couple who despite their differences, and the way in which their world changes around them, learn to love, and be loved.
The premise of Normal People may seem relatively simple, a story of boy meets girl, their coming of age, developing relationships and discovering their sexuality. However, there is so much more to these characters and their journey, which made this such a compelling read. As I read the closing sentence of this book – feeling a little emotional I might add – I realised I would find it difficult to find the words to express how much I enjoyed and treasured this book. It is a wonderfully written story of love that is honest, and told with tenderness, capturing the emotions of two people, and the important part they play in one and others lives.