‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney – Marianne and Connell

 

‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney (2019) – 288 pages

 

There is no sophomore slump or sophomore jinx here. Sally Rooney’s first novel, ‘Conversations With Friends’ is very good; her second novel ‘Normal People’ is even better.

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell. She’s still wearing her school uniform, but she’s taken off the sweater, so its just the blouse and skirt, and she has no shoes on, only tights.

Oh, hey, he says.

Come on in.

She turns and walks down the hall. He follows her, closing the door behind him.

These are the first lines of ‘Normal People’. In short declarative sentences, Sally Rooney gets the reader to care about these two high school seniors, Marianne and Connell.

Marianne lives in a white mansion in the small western Ireland town of Carricklea. Connell’s mother works as a cleaner at the mansion. Both Marianne and Connell are at the top of their class in schoolwork. It’s true that Marianne is the smartest person in the school, but she has no friends.

She exercises an open contempt for people in school. She has no friends and spends her lunchtime alone reading novels. A lot of people hate her.

Connell is also one of the top students, but he is very popular. He is the star of the school football team. He also reads a lot during his spare time.

“Of course, he pretends not to know Marianne in school, but he didn’t mean to bring that up. That’s just the way it has to be. If people found out what he has been doing with Marianne, in secret, while ignoring her every day in school, his life would be over.”

In the beginning, these two could almost be from your high school. While seniors, Marianne and Connell discover they have an almost natural attraction for each other. Later they both decide to go to Trinity College in Dublin.

Most of ‘Normal People’ takes place during their college years. In college, Marianne thrives on the academic life and is no longer the friendless soul but she still has trouble reconciling her traumatic early years.

There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love. In school the boys had tried to break her with cruelty and disregard, and in college men had tried to do it with sex and popularity, all with the same aim of subjugating some force in her personality. It depressed her to think people were so predictable.”

Connell finds it difficult being away from all of his high school friends and his mother Lorraine. Connell and Marianne break up only to make up time and time again.

Sally Rooney has made the decision for this novel to not use quotation marks to denote spoken conversation lines. I believe that is a good strategy here, because quotation marks would have detracted from the naturalness of their interactions and would have given their spoken words an artificial stagy quality.

In short sentences, simply and directly, Sally Rooney captures the way things go for Marianne and Connell in the last year of high school and during those wild early years of college.

 

Grade:   A

 

4 responses to this post.

  1. Great review, thanks for sharing your thoughts

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  2. Thank you for this. I found the book riveting and had somehow had missed this author.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Charlotte,
      I think the title of her new novel ‘Normal People’ partially explains Sally Rooney’s success. She writes short simple sentences about normal people that most of us can identify with.

      Like

      Reply

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