Friday, August 21, 2020

Fiction Review: Normal People

I was thrilled when my husband picked out Normal People by Sally Rooney for me for Mother's Day this year. I've been hearing great things about this multi-award-winning novel since its release in 2018 and couldn't wait to read it. It was a perfect "palate-cleanser" this month, in between the chunksters I've been reading for Big Book Summer. I enjoyed this funny, moving, thoughtful story about a complex, challenging relationship between two imperfect young people.

Marianne and Connell both attend the same high school (secondary school) in a small town in Ireland, but that's where their similarities end. Marianne is a wealthy loner, with no friends at school and an acerbic attitude that ensures she won't have any. She's developed this hard, prickly shell in response to an abusive home life and family. Connell comes from a small home on the other side of town but is very popular at school and has a warm, loving relationship with his single mother. He's a soccer star on the school team, well-liked by both boys and girls, with an agreeable--if rather quiet and shy--attitude. Marianne and Connell's lives intersect, though, outside of school since Connell's mother works as a maid for Marianne's family. From their interactions in Marianne's home, when Connell comes to pick up his mother after work, the two teens begin to get to know each other in a way they can't at school: Marianne feels she can let her guard down with kind Connell, and he isn't embarrassed to talk to her about his love of books. They start a clandestine relationship, spending every day after school together, often in bed, though they keep all of this a secret at school. Of course, that agreement is not a very healthy way to start a relationship, especially for Marianne, and things eventually begin to go wrong. Later, the two erstwhile teen lovers meet again in college in Dublin, where their roles are quite different than in high school. They continue an on-again-off-again relationship over the course of years, repeatedly breaking up, seeing other people, and somehow eventually finding each other again.

I became completely immersed in Marianne and Connell's story, feeling like I knew each of them, rooting for them to work things out, and yelling at the book when either of them did something stupid. Rooney has created very intimate, engaging portraits of these two complicated young people. As the novel moves forward, the reader learns more about what is behind the self-destructive behavior of each of them. It is interesting to see them each mature and grow and deal with their challenges. Fair warning: there is both emotional and physical abuse in this novel, and suicide is also encountered. However, these dark themes are countered with a sense of humor, and the focus overall is on healing and learning to love yourself enough to allow yourself to be happy. I loved getting to know Marianne and Connell and going along on their journey with them. Since finishing this insightful novel more than two weeks ago, I still find myself thinking about the characters and their story, which is, to me, the mark of an outstanding novel.

273 pages, Hogarth

NOTE: There is a TV adaptation of this novel on Hulu, which I started watching after finishing the book. I'm enjoying it so far, seeing Marianne and Connell come to life on the screen. Clearly, I wasn't ready to say goodbye to them yet! Review of the TV show to come soon.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is about Marianne and Connell interacting in Marianne's home, from the first pages of the novel. It sounds excellent on audio!

You can purchase Normal People from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order Normal People from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide


  1. This sounds like another dark but really good Irish book. I love it when I react out loud to a book; it's a sure sign the author has done a good job.

    1. Ha - yeah, I guess the Irish are known for their dark literature :)

      Yes, if I am laughing out loud and/or talking back to the book, I know it's a good one!

  2. Thank you for the review.

  3. I listened to the audio of this and enjoyed it. I then watched the TV series as well.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, too, Marg - the audio sounds great in that sample!

  4. I read this and thought it was good but, didn't love it. I wasn't aware there was a television offshoot.