‘Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying – something life changing begins.
Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they cant.’
Normal People is one of those novels that divides people – I think you either love it, or hate it. To be honest, I bought it and read it with low expectations – I had read a lot of reviews and opinions from readers who didn’t enjoy it. I spotted it on sale in a bookshop while on holiday and decided to see what the fuss, negative and positive, was all about.
And boy, am I glad I did, because I can happily say that I loved this book.
Now, I can completely understand why some people didn’t like it, because I thought, after reading the first few pages, that I wouldn’t enjoy it either, but it ended up just sucking me right in.
The story follows Connell and Marianne from their school days in Sligo, Ireland, through their college years in Trinity College in Dublin, and through the years afterwards. It sees their personalities develop and grow, their relationships, with each other and their friends and families change multiple times as they grow older. We can see them being pulled back to each other constantly, as though they can’t help it.
Marianne and Connell are the two main characters in this book. We first meet them as school kids, just finished their exams and getting ready to face college and the world outside their hometown. They go to the same school, but they aren’t friends, and they don’t really mix. They interact because Connell’s mother is a cleaner in Marianne’s family home.
Connell is popular in school and around the town. He has a good group of friends, he’s good at sports, and he is intelligent enough to get into one of the most prestigious colleges in Ireland.
Marianne is different – she is not popular, but she doesn’t really care that much. Her home life is difficult, and she also plans to go to college in Dublin. She is quiet, and keeps herself to herself.
The two characters are an unlikely match, but they are attracted to each other in a way they can’t deny. They are drawn to each other, and despite growing up and growing apart, they seem to keep gravitating back to each other again and again.
Each character is really well written – they have so many flaws, which makes them so realistic and personable.
Connell – the seemingly confident social butterfly – is actually really insecure and full of self doubt. He constantly hides his relationship with Marianne for fear of what everyone else will think of him.
Seeing Marianne flourish as she gets older is hard for him – he almost doesn’t recognise the girl who he denied.
Marianne, for her part, accepts this behaviour, as though she believes she deserves it. She adopts the personalities of the people she surrounds herself with.
It’s really interesting to see how the characters change as they grow older and grow up – Marianne becomes much stronger in herself, she gains friendships, and gains confidence, and Connell seems to go the other way.
Style & Format
The book is written in the third person, present tense. Each chapter is set in a different time of the characters’ lives, each one dated.
The conversation can be hard to follow, as it is not written with any quotation marks. It can take a little time to get used to, but once I did, I barely noticed it.
I really enjoyed Normal People. I loved watching the characters grow as people, and enjoyed following their journeys, both separately and together.
I loved that it was set in Ireland for the most part also, because I am from Dublin in Ireland, so I found the setting and places familiar. I do love reading about places that I know personally, it helps me to immerse myself in the story even more.
Every now and again, it is refreshing to read a book that is simple, and not overly dramatic – this book has no big mystery, no murder to solve, no big reveals – it is calm, and steady, it flows well, and is easy to read, and just simply well written. There is nowhere for the author to hide in this book, no suspense or drama to veil bad writing – it is laid bare for all to see, and that’s where the author’s skill comes out in this. Holding a reader’s interest purely with well written characters, to me, is a talent, and a talent that I think Sally Rooney has in droves if this book is anything to go by.
Having read Normal People I am keen to read more novels by this author.
I rate Normal People by Sally Rooney 4 out of 5 stars.
About The Author
Sally Rooney was born in County Mayo, Ireland, and presently lives in Dublin. She is the author of the novels Conversations With Friends and Normal People. Her writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the London Review of Books, and elsewhere.
Conversations With Friends was shortlisted for both the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Rathbones Folio Prize, and longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize. Rooney was also shortlisted for the Sunday Times / PFD Young Writer of the Year Award.
Normal People won the Costa Novel of the Year in 2019, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, as well as the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Rathbones Folio Prize in 2019.