Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney’s second novel Normal People (2018) surprised me. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I thought it would be a teenage romance story and it was. (I passed it to teenagers at my house and they read it in a single seating.) But it was more than that. Somehow Rooney really drills down to the essence of the relationship between Marianne and Connell, two Irish young adults, with her precise clean prose. It is a short book with concise sentences but it says a lot about relationships, not just young ones. The central relationship starts in high school, where Connell is the popular athlete and Marianne is the odd kid with no friends. But she is wealthy. Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house. Their roles are reversed at Trinity College in Dublin, where she is urbane and magnetic and he struggles to find his way. The novel follows their on and off relationship through college. While their romance is definitely seen via social class, there is more there. Both Marianne and Connell are lonely and that is one of the forces that keeps them in each other’s orbits.

Rooney is a young up and coming writer, highlighted in this New Yorker article. Her fresh take on all things from Brexit to relationships is fun to read. This book was recently made into a TV series by the BBC, released in late April on Hulu. The TV series follows the book very closely. There is talk of a second series of Normal People which gives me hope that there is another book too! Rooney reminds me of Naoise Dolan, another young Irish writer coming at her subjects via a Marxist yet millennial lens. I will review Dolan’s novel Exciting Times next.