Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.
Readers love Sally Rooney. She is a young Irish writer whose debut novel, Conversations With Friends, seemed to set the literary world on fire. It was nominated 2018 Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize, and the 2018 Folio Prize.
Her second novel, Normal People (which at this point is decidedly less new as I took my sweet time actually putting a post up after we already had to wait an extra year to get it in Canada) was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, was named Irish Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, Waterstone’s Book of the Year 2018, and it won the Costa Book Award for the Novel category. It was long-listed for the 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize and the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Basically Sally Rooney is a literary heavy hitter.
You know where I’m going with this don’t you?
Normal People wasn’t really my jam.
It’s about these two teenagers, Connell and Marianne, who are from the same kind of crappy Irish town. Marianne is from a wealthy, super dysfunctional family and Connell is the son of their house cleaner. He’s super popular, a student athlete, she has no friends and is incredibly private. They form an unlikely friendship which becomes romantic and they have sex every chance they get over the course of their last year of school. A year later and they are both at Trinity in Dublin and their paths cross again. The novel checks in on them periodically as they continue to grow and change but ultimately find their way back to each other.
Initially I liked the prose. It’s obvious that Rooney can write. She’s able to do a lot in few words. While this impressed me, it also held me at a bit of a distance – I never got to the point where I cared about either Connell or Marianne. I did get kind of darker One Day vibes but unfortunately I loved the movie more than the book (cardinal sin).
And while I appreciated that the ending was a bit open – there are infinite ways the reader can imagine their story ending – I just didn’t care about what happened to either of them. Normal People was missing the kind of pathos I’ve come to expect from a book by an Irish writer. Ultimately, when Connell and Marianne are together, they will always revert to the people they were back in their hometown. When I finished reading this, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing, their relationship, their push and pull through life, was about sex. Their early romantic relationship was so all consuming that it suffocated any chance of developing into more.