With the upcoming release of Normal People on BBC Three, I finally caved and read the story everyone has fallen in love with. Now, I’m sitting here wondering why it took me so long to do so: it is just as absorbing as the hype lead me to believe.
“It feel powerful to him to put an experience down in words, like he’s trapping it in a jar and it can never fully leave him.”
‘Normal People’ is a sharp and poignant evocation of what it is to be young and in love. To simply describe the plot here would do the novel a disservice, for Rooney’s wit truly elevates the story. But in short, we follow our two protagonists’ relationship through adolescence and into early adulthood. Marianne is an anxious, intelligent girl from a wealthy family with little self-esteem yet more masochistic tendencies. Connell, meanwhile, is the secure and popular working-class star of their school’s football team. Although they are both deeply flawed and marred by unlikable characteristics, I could not stop caring about them. Their relationship felt so painfully real: just two lonely people trying to find their way.
“He writes these things down, long run-on sentences with too many dependent clauses, sometimes connected with breathless semicolons, as if he wants to recreate a precise copy of Marianne in print, as if he can preserve her completely for future review. Then he turns a new page so he doesn’t have to look at what he’s done.”
Moreover, there was something so hypnotic about the simplicity of the writing. On the surface, it’s an insight into the psychology of modern relationships, and yet, it is so much more. Rooney interweaves ordinary experiences with emotionally charged ones and tackles a wealth of themes while doing so. ‘Normal People’ is about gender roles and power dynamics and social status and socioeconomic disparities and mental health, and Rooney examines it all minutely through the lens of this one ill-fated sort-of-couple.
Of course, this book isn’t for everyone. But please, give this a chance. I thought it was stunning, and I cannot wait for the BBC adaptation!
Have you read Normal People? Are you excited for the adaptation?
Looking for some more lockdown reading inspiration? Here are the books I read in March.