Normal People, Sally Rooney

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Possibly the most hyped book of Autumn 2018, Rooney’s second novel is even better than her first, Conversations with Friends.

My first encounter with Rooney’s work was Granta Issue 135: New Irish Writing. I found the relationship between the young woman and older man in her short story Mr Salary intriguing and disturbing in equal measure and felt uncomfortable reading it. But like with most excellent writing, that sensation stayed with me, resurfacing again when I picked up her debut Conversations with Friends, another excellent if unsettling read.

When I finally got my hands on Normal People (courtesy of the lovely people at TOAST magazine!) I was ready for the more of the same, readying myself to look beyond the self-absorption of the central characters to the insecurities that made them more likeable. So, I was very pleasantly surprised to meet Marianne and Connell, both instantly more sympathetic than her earlier protagonists.

As the novel developed, so did my connection to the two teenagers. Rooney creates sympathy for Marianne and her background with a light touch, allowing the character to grow without being weighed down by her cold, abusive family. Connell’s character is made more human through his interactions with his mother, shining a light on the thoughtful young man hiding behind the blase and disinterested persona he adopts at school.

Much praise has been heaped on Rooney’s use of dialogue, and rightly so. It’s incisive and realistic, without feeling forced. Despite the fact that they are deeply in love with one another, neither Connell or Marianne can properly communicate with one another and Rooney’s dialogue illustrates how a fear of being vulnerable can stop people from fully opening up to one another.

I whizzed through this book in one sitting, compelled to find out how their story ended. It kept me gripped through all the complexities and I genuinely had to pause in parts to process one or two of the more emotional punches. Rooney has been hailed as a writer of her generation and this novel certainly captures the searing sense of uncertainty any teenager feels moving away from home and into adulthood – but without the schmaltz or the forced gritty ‘realness.’ Read it. It will linger.

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