This book has been on my radar for a while, ever since I have seen a trailer for the TV series based on it, but with all the other books on my reading list, I only found time for it recently. Considering that ‘Normal People’ caused me to send a message to my friend essentially screaming to her, I can definitely say I regret not reading it earlier. To be completely honest, the beginning of the book did not look too promising as I though it would be a dramatic retelling of a high school relationship and drama and as a happily married twenty-six year old, this was not very interesting to me. However, the more I read, the more I realized why this story is so popular and why many have tagged Marianne and Connell #relationshipgoals.
The huge majority of the novel is set in Ireland, with smaller parts in Italy and Sweden. While the story of first, young love and finding someone is general, the effects of living in a small Irish town in early 2010s are also evident, especially in the slang of the characters and their attitudes. (I found this video fascinating in understanding those nuances: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=EadYrT9xdXY) I found Rooney’s style extremely effective in this novel as it appropriately grows with her characters, but remains uncomplicated and straightforward in retelling of the events. Rather, she gives her characters a lot of space to express themselves in their often awkward and contradictory ways. Although this is fundamentaly a love story as the romance of Marrianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron is in the center, it does not fall under tropes of this genre. It is not plot heavy and focused heavily on the inner world and thoughts of the main characters. Rooney often starts her chapters in media ras, only to slowly return and explain what happened in the meantime. I thought that this approach was quite successful as it showed progression of the characters, their journey separate and together. This also allowed her to span the story over couple of years, making these changes more realistic.
As I already said, this is fundamentally a love story, but it is also much more than that. The protagonists are two people who at first glance are almost on opposite sides of the spectrum, as Marriane is rich and isolated, without any friends, while Connell is from working class and popular/ However, it becomes obvious that they have a lot more in common as their internal worlds and their struggles to communicate effectively become more prevalent and often times with tragic consequences for themselves and their relationship. I am not going to lie, often I would stop reading and turn towards my husband and ask in frustration ‘why can’t they just talk to each other?’ But, even as I was asking that question, an answer would reveal itself-they simply could not. Traumas that they both been through (which are truly heartbreaking) rendered them unable to express themselves. I found it quite fascinating that they were able to talk about big and abstract concepts and feel like they understand each other, but slip over their words when it came to their feelings. Although often frustrating, this struggle seemed very realistic, especially for a modern romance of two young and emotionally complicated people. Rooney managed to depict the awkwardness, the high of the relationship as well as the heartbreak. What are your thoughts on this? Did you find it frustrating as well?
Speaking of which, Marianne and Connell are some of the best developed characters I have read in a long time. Even at first, when they are still in high school, they did not feel like tropes of a ‘weird girl’ and ‘a popular jock’. From the beginning, they were built as their own, realistic people with deep internal lives that gradually start coming to the surface. In fact, the realistic approach to the characters and the believability of their actions and opinions made this novel so successful. I found myself deeply caring about them and even thinking about them as friends, wondering how to help them. Moments in which they would finally open to each other brought tears to my eyes, as it genuinely felt like people in my life were doing well. It is hard to talk about their characters without revealing too much about the plot of the novel as they are so tightly linked. They did feel real and it was a long time since I was so invested in a fictional relationship.
Other characters in the book did not interest me as much, as they were always in the orbit around Marianne and Connell, presented through a way in which they influence the two of them, whether in a negative or positive way. That being said, I absolutely loved the character of Lorraine, Connell’s mother. She is a single mother who had to fight the stigma of raising a boy by herself, but in addition to Marianne, probably the only other person who understood Connell and was able to be completely honest with him. This kind of household in which there is strong communication and respect was a huge contrast to Marianne’s home life, where opposite is true. What did you think about other characters? Is there any other that stood out to you?
This book (and the TV series) was praised for its depictions of sex. Throughout the novel, a huge focus in Marianne and Connell’s sexual life was put on explicit consent and use of protection. I found this quite refreshing, albeit a little awkward at first. However, I realized that the idea that consent is implied that is prevalent in many modern depictions can be quite troubling and did appreciate it. In addition to this, Rooney also openly discussed issues of mental health and even showed a scene of therapy with realistic expectations of what one session can achieve. (If you read the review of ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, the expectation that huge revelations happen instantly in therapy was one of the biggest criticism I had of that book) Another aspect that I found quite refreshing is the ending. It is not clear what will actually happen in the future with our two protagonists, but the significant progress they have made through the course of the book is evident in the last chapter. Do you agree with this? What do you think will happen with Marianne and Connell?
Finally, I have started watching the Hulu series based on the book and I watched three episodes in one sitting. I think that Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal are brilliant in their roles and I loved the visuals of each episode. So far, all the aspects of the story that I mentioned I enjoyed were captured in the series and I hope that it continued throughout the series. Although it took me a long time to get around ‘Normal People’, I can say that I enjoyed it and found it a quite refreshing depiction of a modern romance, trauma and struggles of communication. What are your thoughts on this book and the TV show?