Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Published by Faber & Faber 2018 / 266 pages

Opening sentence: “Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.”

When a book comes with so much hype, it always makes me a little wary. And this book has hype. Adored on Twitter. Adored on Instagram. Rave reviews everywhere and long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2018. Am I going to be adding to that hype with this review? Yes. I’m very pleased to say that yes, I am.

Normal People is Irish author Sally Rooney’s second novel. It’s the story of Marianne and Connell. They go to school together, but as Marianne is the strange outcast, they do not speak there. Connell’s mum is Marianne’s cleaner, so Connell calls at her house and they strike up their friendship out of school hours.

When they both go to Trinity College in Dublin, things change and Marianne is the popular one, while Connell struggles. The story explores how this affects their friendship, their complex, beguiling friendship that sees them veer from friends to lovers and back again several times. It’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a love story, it’s a story about two people who never quite fit in. Two people who never quite crack the subtle art of communication.

What makes this book so exceptional is Sally Rooney’s writing style – she just has a way of perfectly describing the little thoughts you have (that I guess you never realised other people felt too), of getting into the tiniest emotion and so eloquently writing about it: ‘He finds himself rushing to the end of the conversation so they can hang up, and then he can retrospectively savour how much he likes seeing her, without the moment-to-moment pressure of having to produce the right expressions and say the right things.’ I also loved this example:‘Connell always gets what he wants, and then feels sorry for himself when what he wants doesn’t make him happy.’

Normal People is the first book in a while that I’ve felt I want to re-read immediately after finishing (the last that had this impact on me was Tin Man), just to get all the nuances and understand the characters more. It is a stunning character study that was effortless to read and left me feeling a little bereft when I was no longer in Marianne and Connell’s company.

Rating: 5/5

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