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REVIEW: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

I'd heard so many good things about this book before I'd even bought it, so I was desperate to see what all the hype was about. My expectations were so high, however, I finished the book feeling a little bit torn. It was a classic case of 'not worth the hype', and I'll tell you why (pls don't hate me)...

Normal People follows the story of Marianne and Connell, who have a complicated yet almost unbreakable connection to one another through their teens into adulthood. Now, that sounds like a story that I would LOVE. Young romance? Check. Geeky but cute boy? Check. Navigating life as a young person? Check. The aspect that I love most about those type of stories is the build up to the relationship; the fumbling, the pining, the final 'YESSSS' when they finally get together. But that never happened. The book is written almost like a collection of short stories, skipping huge chunks of time. Now, Rooney had a lot of time to cover, so I fully understand why things needed to move fast. But, because of these shifts, it made it hard for me to see much character development at first. I found the whole first half of the book so hard to get into - both characters were irritating, which prevented motivation to read on.

Marianne seemed too polished. She was supposed to be the weird girl at school, but seemed way too self-assured for a 17 year old social outcast. I mean, what teenager has casual sex and isn't in turmoil at why the boy doesn't like them? Where was the fumbling? The awkwardness? It seemed to be all about lust, which I found kind of unrealistic for that age group, but perhaps that is just my life experience. I wanted to see the teenagers navigating a relationship, not driven like maniacs to each other.

However, luckily I carried on reading! As the book went on, I got much more into it, actually really enjoying the parts set at university, being much more realistic and complicated in the right ways. This exposed the true depths to the characters, revealing Marianne as not so self-assured and brought out the turmoil that we needed to see in the beginning (thank god). I found that Connell was actually a very 3D character, being concerned about popularity and the opinions of others - it was refreshingly honest to see these flaws. Marianna was low-key the most annoying character at times and I found her difficult to root for, which meant that I didn't root for their relationship. However, it isn't clear if Rooney actually wants you to root for them - she is telling their story, not pushing you to feel a certain way, hence the ending not conforming to a romance novel (the 'YESSS' feeling I expected going into it) - because it simply wasn't.

There were some really great things about the book; the way that Rooney writes is wonderful (minus the lack of speech marks) and I loved the timespan to show real growth and development. I wasn't totally in love with the story, and found it really dark at times. I am still completely torn over how I feel. I am hoping that the BBC production can make some sense out of this for me!

Favourite quotes:

  • 'The whole trip felt like a series of short films, screened only once, and afterwards he had a sense of what they were about but no exact memories of the plot' THIS is what I'm talking about, amazing writing. She just described what interrailing feels like in the most perfect way.

  • 'It feels powerful to him to put an experience down in words, like he's trapping it in a jar and it can never fully leave him'

  • 'Cherries hang on the dark-green trees like earrings' I loved this description

See you all next time,

Kate x

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