The protagonists of Normal People, Marianne and Connell are still at school in Carricklea, Ireland when we first encounter them. Connell’s mother Lorraine is Marianne’s family’s cleaner but no one at school knows this. Marianne is a social pariah whilst Connell is a popular member of the football team. Connell and Marianne begin sleeping together, something he asks her to conceal at school to avoid embarrassment for him. In spite (or perhaps because) of this he feels that “Being alone with her is like opening a door away from normal life and then closing it behind him.” It is only later, when they are at Trinity College together, that he begins to realise the full impact she has had on him. This is an often crushing love story which dissects misunderstandings beautifully, as well as delicately examining the difference between privilege and dominance.
This was my first reaction when I first picked it up:
I fell in love with the characters; the narrative style, and reading the character’s thought processes. This mix resulted in me slowly and suddenly getting very closely involved in the couple as I read the book. I was completely immersed, and I haven’t felt that way about a book in a long time.
I loved the realness of their story, and how I could easily see myself in it. The intensity and melodrama of youth, the highs and lows, the loneliness, the romance, the immediacy, the challenges of being a young adult learning to navigated life. The whole on-off/will-they-won’t-they narrative that goes on and on and seems to have no end. How we end up inevitably making decisions, good or bad, and how they change us, but life goes on.
The book is a lot about ongoing conversation between Connell and Marianne, that take place in person, through emails, or text messages. But Rooney also touches on subjects like domestic violence, sadism, suicide, banality of loneliness in a modern, capitalist society. Having said that, it’s not a depressing book, it’s a novel about the transformative power of being loved.
“The love between Connell and Marianne is fragile but essential to the growth of them both. They understand the thrilling strangeness of each other in a way that no one else in their lives does. They spend most of the book not being in a relationship with each other and yet, when Connell first tells Marianne that he loves her, at a moment fairly early on, it changes her life in a pivotal way:
“Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself to be fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.”
I must say though, I did expect a slightly different ending. I’m not going to elaborate on it, because spoilers, but if you’ve read the book, how did you feel about the ending? Was it satisfying to you? I’d love to get different perspectives on it!
PS: I wrote this post listening to Gavin’s DeGraw Young Love, a perfect fit to this intense, ordinary, normal, beautiful young love story.