Here is a profoundly lonely and depressing love story.
Normal People follows the main characters, Marianne and Connell, through their adolescence and early 20’s. The relationship between the two is one of the most complex I’ve ever read. They are deeply flawed, with unlovable characteristics, but I could not help but feel for them.
The story focuses solely on Marianne and Connell. In high school, Marianne is a smart and extremely wealthy girl, but is socially unaccepted and emotionally abused at home by her mother and brother. Connell is a working class kid, but a social butterfly among his peers. Connell’s mother works as a cleaner for Marianne’s family. The pair begin a relationship of sorts in secret, which falls apart when Connell is paralyzed with fear that his friends will find out. The compelling dynamic between them drives the narrative of class issues and social status conflict.
It was culture as class performance, literature fetishized for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.
The two meet again in college. This time the roles have reversed. Marianne is popular and Connell is feeling increasingly depressed. They lean on each other throughout the months of college as they move through a social world filled with high expectations.
Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was or become part of it.
Throughout the book the pair’s inability to communicate properly is beyond frustrating, but completely realistic. As said time and time again, the key to a successful relationship of any kind is communication. I was left feeling anger out of all the things left unsaid in this book, but it was exactly what was meant to be felt.
This novel is weird, awkward, and depressing. And I loved it. The connection formed between these two very different people find exactly what they need, and often times don’t, in each other.
Sally Rooney’s style of writing is impeccable. Her attention to minute details made me fall in love. “The sun is very warm, and he can sense Marianne’s body close to him, and the mouthful of smoke, and the bitter aftertaste of coffee.” The way she captures so much in the details is what truly drew me into this novel.
The reviews for this book are extremely mixed and severe. People either hated it with a passion or absolutely loved it. I fall into the latter. Rooney’s talent cannot be ignored and I eagerly await her next novel.
Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.