Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Normal People tells the story of Connell and Marianne, who go to school together and have a complex relationship – in school, they pretend they hardly know each other, but at home, they have a quiet friendship with underlying, barely disguised desire. It follows them throughout the years as their relationship changes, ends, starts, develops and constantly threatens to break.
If you have feelings and want them squashed into a sobbing mess, well, this is the book for you! Let Sally Rooney break your heart and she will quietly and brutally do so.
In the first pages of Normal People, I didn’t actually expect to like it – the language is simple and direct, a bit too much for my taste. From the beginning you know that you get another book about relationships and their complexities, which has been such a theme on the Longlist of the Women’s Prize this year that I was not as excited as I would normally be for that. Adding to that, the hype around Normal People threw me off a little.
I have been proven wrong swiftly, getting actual chills within the first 40 pages of the book. On the category of “contemporaries about romantic relationships” from the longlist, this one is the best in my opinion. The characters in this book are all so broken and in such desperate need for love and acceptance, it’s painful to read. Sally has such an accuracy when describing what her characters are going through that a lot of times I just wanted to burn her words on me – yes, that is exactly how social anxiety and depression feel like. Someone understands and has put it in words.
There is such a depth in this short novel that it’s hard to describe – from what social isolation can do to you, to bullying and abuse. There is so much inside 300 pages and yet it felt like it all belonged exactly where it was. There is a lovely precision to the way the author writes which feels simple and literary at the same time. It’s the kind of book that you finish and you’re a bit astonished at the world around you, that it exists completely apart from the story. The kind of book you finish and you’ve got so much to say and think about, that you just say: this was a good book.
[Mild spoilers ahead]
It’s quite a strong story, with several difficult themes and addressing in such a sensitive manner the dynamic of dominant and submissive relationships that it makes clear exactly what is wrong with how 50 Shades of Gray was executed. The communication and consent part were so well done.
I left this book feeling broken, but also hopeful. An interesting thing, especially because that is also how Ordinary People and An American Marriage made me feel by the end. It seems like it’s a trend in contemporary fiction, and I do love the introspection this invites the reader to examine within themselves – what is happiness? What is a happy ending?
This was lovely.
Trigger warnings: toxic relationships, physical and psychological abuse, attempted rape, sexual abuse, severe power imbalance, depression, suicide, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, bullying.