Posts Tagged ‘Sally Rooney’

‘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


‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney – Modern Romance


‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney   (2017) – 307 pages

In ‘Conversations With Friends’, Frances and Bobbi are two young women who perform together on the poetry recital scene in Dublin, Ireland.  Frances and Bobbi used to be hooked up romantically, but now they are just the best of friends.  Bobbi is a sharp-tongued radical while Frances is just as radical but not quite so outspoken. A writer and photographer, Melissa, attends one of their recitals and wants to take pictures of them for a local arts magazine.  Later Melissa invites the two gals for a nightcap at her house, and they meet her husband Nick who is a handsome not-so-successful actor.  Nick and Melissa are both in their thirties while Frances and Bobbi are both in their early twenties.

Melissa is more drawn toward the aggressive Bobbi of the two girls, leaving Frances with Nick.  Although her intentions may be otherwise, Frances is strongly attracted to Nick.  One night they kiss on the sly, and soon Frances is secretly sleeping with Nick. Usually today a guy like Nick would be portrayed in a novel as a hopeless and disgusting heel, but in ‘Conversations With Friends’ he comes off as quite the enlightened sensitive one.  It is Frances who is the real ardent pursuer in their affair.

“He was the first person I had met since Bobbi who made me enjoy conversation, in the same irrational and sensuous way I enjoyed coffee or loud music.”

So now we have the radical Frances playing that trite role of The Other Woman.  Nick and Frances hide their passionate trysts from everyone else as long as possible.

When I read novels now, I keep a few notes while reading which I can use later.  The first thing I wrote down for ‘Conversations With Friends’ very early was the word “methodical”.   What impressed me most about ‘Conversations With Friends’ was the systematic precision that Sally Rooney brings to this messy story of modern infidelity.   It is difficult for a writer to describe feelings and emotions with exactness, and Rooney achieves just that.

Then there is also the provocative and lively dialogue:

Frances:  “You’re really handsome, you know.”

Nick: “Is that all I get?  I thought you liked my personality.”

Frances:  “Do you have one?”

Overall I was mightily encouraged by ‘Conversations With Friends’ that this younger generation might for once be on the right track in pursuing their personal relationships.


Grade :   A-        


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