Normal People – Sally Rooney

An Irish tale of normal proportions

Apologies in the delay in getting another review out. I’ve actually had a move in my personal life to a completely new city! Both an exciting and busy time in which as ever, it’s important to take some time out for me and get to some books!

Sally Rooney commands the casual craft in this lovely, almost soapy and wistful style of prose. The way this book is crafted definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s extremely simple punctuation at it’s core, and can sometimes take a bit to get used to. Once this is traversed however, it flows freely between pages and makes for a quick read. The third person perspective can occasionally be a bit jarring as well, but this is nothing major. It does benefit from this however, as you easily grasp the emotions of both of the protagonists as opposed to the singular. It essentially gives you free rein to like them or not!

At its core, Normal People tells the tale of Marianne and Connell; who at the beginning are students at their local secondary (or high) school. We follow them from the very confusing times in their last school years through into university, their lives interweaving throughout. The overarching contrast of the novel is class and division amongst the protagonists. Connell is in with the “popular crowd”…. but comes from a much more modest background. Marianne however is classed as the typical nerd, albeit it from an affluent family. They meet through Connells mother working at Marianne’s house, and this is where the initial pages of Normal People take place. It’s really interesting to see the relationship blossom in this first quarter of the book while they’re “restricted” in the confines of the school setting, and the social expectations of this. It’s a typical romance at this point to be honest, but it feels warm and raw. It feels intense, and they both have plenty of experiences to relate to and bond over.

As we move to the later parts of the book, where the “restrictions” of home life are lifted, Marianne and Connell’s social lives are flipped. Marianne (like many of us) find our footing at university, and a friendship group. Connell however struggles, partly due to his economic background, however this is me theorising! This part of the book for me is where it slightly lags, especially with both of our protagonists skirting around each other for a while. It picks up quickly though (even though it’s over a couple of years for the protagonists) and we see their intense bond grow and develop.

This is where the novel starts to shine. The hint of vulnerability we saw in the first quarter is brought back, and the themes of insecurity and trauma shaping who we are really come to the forefront. This topic gets a emphatic ending as a bubbling under sub-plot has a resolution in the second third, and really helps the book move forward. The changes of setting and typical activities the characters get up to again are great to see, and the personalities are really developed; especially in Connell and Marianne. We understand what makes them tick which leads to a satisfying, if not inevitable conclusion

At this point, I really need to mention the TV series. I know! This is a book review, and shouldn’t have any impact on my rating of thoughts towards it. But WOW. This is how you adapt a book. The episodes feel natural. The actors are brilliant in conveying the written emotion. The setting is right. It feels normal and isn’t sensationalised. It’s how you adapt the correct tone of the book, and they bloody nailed it. Obviously read the book first, but I can’t recommend the TV series enough, and at 12×20 minutes episodes, you can’t really go too wrong!

Finishing the book, there are 2 main things I love, and here they are in long bullet points!

  • No one can be independent of other people completely” – This is the core message in the book. It depicts love and normality expertly well. Love is individual, and it is free. We have to rely on other people, and these relationships are what define us. Not our trauma, our insecurities, but our relationships with others. This is what Connell and Marianne are to each other, and that’s why they gravitate back consistently.
  • There’s an open ended conclusion to the story. Whether intentional or not, Sally Rooney allows us to make up our own mind about what happens at the end. I know what I wanted to happen at the end, and I know what I thought happened at the end. This may completely differ from someone else and you know what? That’s absolutely okay.

In conclusion, it’s a lovely little tale (at just over 200 pages) of defining yourself, and knowing how to adapt a book to TV to be honest.

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