I can’t deny that the very ordinary title of Sally Rooney’s latest offering didn’t ironically pique my interest. ‘Normal People’ starts off with Marianne and Connell’s story in their late teens before they head off to university and charts their relationship over the years and their inability to stay away from each other.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in the first few pages but it was such an absorbing read that it felt natural to almost devour the book. Marianne’s troubled home life is evident from the beginning and its clever juxtaposition with Connell’s working class yet loving home and sensible mother is a wonderfully refreshing departure from the usual stereotypes surrounding class conflicts. Moreover, it’s interesting to see Marianne descend into a disastrous downturn yet highly unsurprising given that her choices of friends and boyfriends at university are a clear reflection of her self-worth. Connell, on the other hand, seems to go from insider at school to outsider at university yet manages to maintain a steady, albeit somewhat boring university life. The only steadying factor for both Marianne and Connell is each other; be it as lovers or friends, they both seem to find a sense of peace and stability and I found myself rooting for Marianne to come out of her social stupor to see that Connell is the only one who truly understands her.
Perhaps a petty point here, but I found that lack of speech marks a little disorientating to the writing, but I suspect that was deliberate to ensure continuity in the prose. It doesn’t take much away from the story itself. What I most appreciated is that this is a love story of two people who view each other as intellectual equals and don’t seem to let their class backgrounds get in the way of being together. If anything, it’s their inability to come entirely to terms with how much they mean to each other that holds them back. The Guardian called Normal People a future classic and it’s not difficult to see why. It holds all the markers of a romantic classic on par with Austenian novels – misunderstandings, heartaches, passing of time, movements in different circles, complicated climaxes and the inevitable realisation that the protagonists are made for each other.
I truly think Sally Rooney deserves to be applauded for the way she handles depression sensitively and approaches Marianne’s masochistic tendencies without romanticising the issue. She addresses it without hiding behind anything yet manages to appropriately convey the desperation of both Connell and Marianne’s struggles with their respective conditions. Given Rooney’s age as a younger millennial, mental health is a completely relatable issue to address and it’s impressive how she manages to weave it into the story including their recoveries without turning it into a spectacle.
I can’t say I was happy with the ending; I prefer to have a lot of closure in my stories and this was left completely wide-open. It was obvious that both Marianne and Connell were going to end up with each other in the end, but Connell’s offer from New York only raised further questions about their relationship. I would have liked to have seen them both embark on a new life together across the pond away from the encumbrances of their families and friends. However, Marianne’s reassurance that she would be there for Connell, no matter what, is heartwarming for it speaks to the status of their relationship – that it’s survived the test of time. Normal People is most certainly a classic as it speaks to the lives of younger millennials and what falling in love looks like for them today. It’s a story of what is normal for young people right now.
- I borrowed my copy of ‘Normal People’ from Borrowbox.
- Publisher: Faber and Faber
- ISBN: 9780571334650
- Number of pages: 288