Normal People by Sally Rooney
Hardback, 273 pages
Published April 16, 2019 by Hogarth
Reviewed by Katherine Valdez
When I read the accolades for Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel Normal People, I thought: Yeah, right. Is it really that good? I made no effort to find it at the library or on bookstore shelves.
Two years later, curiosity overcame me and I pressed play on the first episode of the Hulu original series based on the novel. I stopped about 15 minutes in. It was so good, I wanted to read the novel first.
Rooney did not disappoint. I finished the book in five days. (For someone who works full-time, that’s fast.) During the course of this coming-of-age story, the author also explores class, gender, capitalism, Marxism, kindness, and compassion, among other topics.
Believe the hype.
Popular Connell and private Marianne pretend not to know each other at school, but when he picks up his mother from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers.
“Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.”
Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell. She’s still wearing her school uniform, but she’s taken off the sweater, so it’s just the blouse and skirt, and she has no shoes on, only tights.
Oh, hey, he says.
Come on in.
- The prose is spare yet reveals the characters in a striking way. (“They couldn’t look at each other when they were laughing, they had to look into the corners of the room, or at their feet.”)
- Marianne is a fascinating combination of proud and tough, vulnerable and fragile. She’s smarter than any of the kids at school, and she knows it.
- Connell is likeable, then he isn’t. Really isn’t. Then he is again. Kind of like people in real life.
- Literary revenge for smart girls dismissed by the popular kids in high school.
- The tantalizing dream of finding their place in the world, for loners who long to thrive rather than merely survive.
- A compelling, hyper-realistic portrayal of new adults in a relationship.The novel may be set in Ireland, but the characters and issues are universal.
What Others Say
“Sally Rooney is a master of the literary page-turner. In Normal People, she has once again crafted a complicated love story that’s impossible to put down. It’s also full of wise observations about class, gender roles, and how the past shapes the present.”
─ J. Courtney Sullivan
Excerpts (from each character’s point of view)
…Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it. She had that feeling in school often, but it wasn’t accompanied by any specific images of what the real life might look or feel like. All she knew was that when it started, she wouldn’t need to imagine it anymore.
..At times, he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect syncronisation that it surprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he’s going to do it, he catches her.
About The Author
Sally Rooney was born in the west of Ireland in 1991. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Granta and The London Review of Books. Winner of the Sunday Times Writer of the Year Award in 2017, she is the author of Conversations with Friends. Read more at https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/sally-rooney