NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney

From the Jacket

At school, Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other.  He’s popular and well adjusted, a star of the football team, while she is lonely, proud and intensely private.  But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers- one they are determined to conceal.  A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin.  Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain.  Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle each other, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together.  And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.

My Thoughts

It’s safe to say Sally Rooney is the author of the moment, and has been for a while now.  I was nervous to pick up NORMAL PEOPLE, Rooney’s sophomore effort, after loving her debut CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS so darn much.  I didn’t devour NORMAL PEOPLE like I did CONVERSATIONS; its time-jump structure begs for a more patient reader.  But patient I was, and Rooney delivered yet again.

“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.”

NORMAL PEOPLE follows on-again-off-again lovebirds Connell and Marianne through their years of ups and downs, from school to university, from friends-with-benefits to a relationship on the verge of actual romance.  Like any true millennial relationship, they write existential emails and partake in heated debates over politics and literature.  Rooney captures young modern love in such a unique way, it’s no wonder she’s been hailed “the Great Millennial Novelist” and “the Salinger of the Snapchat generation.”  Her characters deal with social expectations, peer pressure, and a number of teenage calamities, yet NORMAL PEOPLE never feels “dumbed down” like a young adult novel; it’s intensely smart and frustrating in the best way.

“No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.”

What I love most about Rooney is the way in which she is so effortlessly able to pull her audience into her story.  With NORMAL PEOPLE, her debut CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS, as well as her published short stories, “Mr. Salary” (Granta) and “Color and Light” (The New Yorker), I have never felt more desperate to continue reading.  Sally Rooney is the real deal.

Further Reading

“Sally Rooney Strips the Novel for Parts” by Meaghan O’Connell, The Cut
“Sex and Money Clash in Sally Rooney’s Modern Romance Normal People by Eliana Dockterman, Time

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