Normal People by Sally Rooney

normal people

A divisive novel, both personally and socially, by which I mean, I am still not sure how I feel about this book and indeed, I often  catch myself revising my opinion about it, but also divisive in the sense that I have sat in on a large number of arguments among friends about the novel’s merits.

On reflection, this novel is a bit like a radio or TV advertisement that has horrifically catchy jingle. You hate it passionately but reserve a great deal of respect for its creator. The novel’s protagonists are extremely irritating, who make frustrating decisions, have frustrating conversations and lead frustrating lives. They struggle in late adolescence and young adulthood through genuinely traumatic and trying circumstances. However, at this point, reality starts to exhaust itself for Connell and Marianne, and many of their social circle, seem to embody a fetishised version of college going Irish young people whose origin I am not certain of. For all I know, they may very well have stumbled inebriated out of a Hollywood film. They’re all beautiful, they have lots of sex, they’re incredibly smart, and they’re all troubled and disaffected (but in a cool way). For this reason, rather than earning my empathy, I veer towards regarding them with ridicule.

But, I have to assume that this is all part of Rooney’s design. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about this novel has reacted in a similar fashion to what I’ve outlined above, although I should note, some have not and argue that her depiction of life for a certain cohort of Trinity students to be spot on. You could never accuse the novel of inconsistency. You do get a sense that Rooney is in control here, and that every word is carefully chosen.

What I did struggle with was the quasi-YA aspect to the novel. The style, while meticulous, can be at times a bit drab and full of the understated melodrama of teenage angst, which is another irritant.

For all my irritation though, it’s a book that gets under your skin. I’m just still not sure if I liked it.

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