Book Review: NORMAL PEOPLE, two young adults struggle to understand themselves and each other

Reading Normal People by Sally Rooney was a joy even through the dark moments. In the book, Connell and Marianne attend high school together in West Ireland. Star of the soccer team, Connell has a large circle of friends even though his family has little money. In contrast, intelligent Marianne, living a privileged life with her widowed mother and brother, accepts her place as the school outcast. Normally, the two would not be friends, but they meet because Connell picks his mother up from her job cleaning Marianne’s house. Though they begin to spend time together, Connell insists on keeping their friendship secret.

But when they both attend Trinity University in Dublin, the only two of their class who leave the security of their local region, their roles reverse. Marianne, comfortable in her new environment, becomes popular while Connell feels lonely and isolated. Still, the two orbit each other throughout college as their closeness ebbs and flows.

Both characters are very flawed yet at the same time likable and sympathetic, though I wished that Marianne had experienced more growth by the end of the book if only because I wanted better for her. Rooney’s writing style is economical but insightful and intellectually seductive, as when one character describes “feeling a strange sense of nostalgia for a moment that was already in the process of happening.” I feel like I should read this again to appreciate the subtleties, but that wouldn’t be a hardship as the novel is so enjoyable.

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