Normal People: A Novel

by Sally Rooney

Hardcover, 2019

Call number




Hogarth (2019), Edition: Later Printing, 288 pages


Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years. This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person's life - a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us - blazingly - about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney's second novel breathes fiction with new life.

Media reviews

[T]he idealized reading experience Rooney casts for her young writer is a magnetic mingling of literary minds that sharpens an intelligence capable not merely of imagining others but of imagining how to be close to them, even how to live with the responsibility of their happiness and dreams.
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[U]pon critical reflection, the novel’s territory comes to seem like more fog than not. Which is to say: it’s a novel about university life, but without collegiate descriptions or interactions with professors or references to intellectual histories or texts; about growing up, but without any adults [. . .]; about Ireland, but without any sense of place, national history, or even physical description (if Joyce wrote Ulysses in order that Dublin might be reconstructed brick by brick, you’d be hard pressed to even break ground using Normal People); about Connell becoming a writer, but without any meaningful access to his interior development, or any sense conveyed of how his creative “passion” inflects his life; and, finally, about Marianne and Connell’s intertwined fate where we are only intermittently given access to sustained moments of intimacy.
Rooney's slivers of insight into how Marianne and Connell wrestle with their emotions and question their identity in the process made it one of the most realistic portrayals of young love I've read. Their relationship is rife with mistakes, misunderstandings, and missed chances that could be simplified if only they communicated and didn't subconsciously suppress their feelings, as millennials are wont to do.
Here, youth, love and cowardice are unavoidably intertwined, distilled into a novel that demands to be read compulsively, in one sitting.
[W]hile Rooney may write about apparent aimlessness and all the distractions of our age, her novels are laser-focused and word-perfect. They build power by a steady accretion of often simple declarative sentences that track minuscule shifts in feelings.
[T]he individual, in , is a microcosmic social structure, made up of webbed relationships and collective agreements. This might be the premise of any young adult novel—a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing your personality to be governed by peers. To allow others to construct us can be destructive. But Rooney doesn’t settle for this conclusion.
Rooney is always starting chapters in the aftermath of something else, filling in the necessary details later. This is simultaneously frustrating and an important part of what makes the book so compulsively readable.
This striking observation about what makes their love transcendent is the freshest in this remarkably timeless novel. True love is what admits no spectators and permits no display, a thing so precious and rare we’ve almost forgotten that it exists.
The miracle of this book is that the romance and the analysis aren’t in opposition to each other. Instead, each amplifies the other, bringing the whole to a roaring crescendo. It is impossibly intellectual, impossibly tender. Impossibly beautiful, too.
People can change, for better or worse, Rooney argues in this book, especially young people.
Normal People proposes that a merciful and just country can still exist, even if only in the space between friends.
Some of the plotting feels heavy-handed and expedient. Her characters cry perhaps more often than you will cry over them. This story can tip over into melodrama. But, then, what is young love without that?
Rooney posits that true intimacy leads to self-annihilation, a fate that Marianne desires and Connell resists. Rooney calls our bluff when we say we want love. Look, she gestures, is this really what you want?
Normal People has the feeling of having been either rushed into publication following the success of Conversations With Friends or a draft for Conversations With Friends. It’s most useful to read them together, as one book or project.
Restrained but precise, such scenes place Rooney among a cadre of authors who have renewed the realist novel by doubling down on its capacity for rich psychological description.
In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy.
Rooney crafts a devastating story from a series of everyday sorrows by delicately traversing female and male anxieties over sex, class, and popularity.
And, whatever the reality or otherwise of the dangers around them, however many times they have absurd quarrels or, conversely, seem to meld and share an identity, that pleasure, of being touched by great art, is to be had in reading the story of Connell and Marianne, just because Rooney is such a gifted, brave, adventurous writer, so exceptionally good at observing the lies people tell themselves on the deepest level, in noting how much we forgive, and above all in portraying love.
What’s remarkable is the extraordinary pitch of Rooney’s writing, the way it shimmers with intelligence. Each sentence is measured and unobtrusive, and yet the cumulative effect is a near-unbearable attentiveness to the emotional dimension of human lives, the quick uneasy weather.

User reviews

LibraryThing member birdsam0610
Normal People has been getting a lot of good social media noise across many channels so I thought that I should take the opportunity to read it. While it wasn’t the panacea of modern writing that I’d hoped for, it’s an intense read that really gets under the reader’s skin. Sally Rooney has the ability to diffuse the story and her characters into the reader’s mind, where they will stubbornly stay even after the novel is finished. It’s a modern story with old worldly touches that is enchanting, despite the subject matter.
I was a bit surprised after reading Normal People that it had been longlisted for the Booker Prize – not because of the quality of the writing which is superb but because of the subject content. The characters begin as teenagers and move through their university years, drinking and having sex and being involved in some things that my mind had as not really Booker material. But I’m glad they those to recognise this work and if you’re the type to shun prize listed novels – don’t ignore this. There is so much mood and controlled angst in this new adult novel that it offers any reader a lot to ponder over.
The two main characters are Marianne and Connell. They are both in the same class at school but that’s where the similarity ends. Marianne is rich but shunned at school for being weird. Connell’s mum cleans for Marianne’s family but Connell is one of the most popular boys in town. One day Marianne and Connell get talking and that’s that. A relationship is begun that will follow them into their twenties and shape both their futures. At university, the tables are turned in Connell’s eyes. Marianne is super popular and he’s the odd one out, a poor country boy. Over the years, their relationship is tumultuous, ranging from romantic to friendship. Both try new relationships and new things, but they are always drawn back to each other. It’s an intense relationship but an equal one. Both characters lead each other to new ground, but never to the detriment of each other.
Marianne and Connell are like chalk and cheese. Marianne’s family hate her for reasons that are never explained (and which frustrated me at times. Marianne does not invite sympathy but it would have been useful to me as to why she is so stoic). Marianne is convinced she is damaged goods and takes a path that exploits herself as a bad person. The reader knows that she isn’t but I felt that a little more background could have helped me understand a bit more about her. Connell is very close to his mother, who had him as a teenager, and she is also his mentor in life. She offers him advice without overcrowding him but ultimately lets him make his own mistakes. Where Marianne is mysterious, Connell is straightforward which is possibly his downfall. At university, he initially expects others to be as clear cut (which they aren’t). This heightens Connell’s insecurities about his place in the world. The back and forth of their relationship is intense, with each rescuing the other at their time of need.
But it is Sally Rooney’s writing that really makes Normal People. In less talented hands, this book could be dismissed as another new adult romance. Rooney makes the emotions leap off the page, grabbing the reader and taking them into Connell and Marianne’s world, but refraining from sending them completely down the rabbit hole. This distance is necessary to keep the story on an even keel but sometimes I wanted to fall headfirst into it. It’s a great twist on the coming of age story and I look forward to Sally Rooney’s next novel.
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LibraryThing member jostie13
There were elements of this book I thought were good. The casual but crucial misunderstandings between the two main characters felt authentic and important, expressions of their distinct psychologies and class backgrounds. However, because there were never real consequences to these misapprehensions—skip a few months forward and the conflict is ironed out—the stakes felt extremely low. Mariane’s familial abuse and her related feelings of low self-worth expressing as masochism was interesting, but the emotional resolution for her was pat and lacked complexity. I was intrigued by the promise of a modern love story that might actually be interesting but this didn’t hit it.… (more)
LibraryThing member pegmcdaniel
This novel got a lot of favorable publicity and is on the best-seller lists. From the start, it rubbed me the wrong way when I found out there would be no quotes for the dialogue. It's so much easier to read with quotes. Next, the time line jumped around. I don't mind if that happens once in a while, but this was excessive.

The two main characters, Marianne and Connell, were "friends with benefits" and kept their relationship a secret. She was from a wealthy family while he had an entirely different background and his mother cleaned Marianne's house. Both were unlikable and unbelievable so I didn't connect with them. But there was a definite connection between them! I assume the author meant for this to be a love story with indepth character studies, but mostly it was about their sex life. They couldn't stay away from each other even when they were dating others. Since the author is young, these characters and the plot seemed to me to be the world her generation inhabits. They have never had to do without, are well-educated, cynical and have political insight. But they sure aren't smart enough to stop smoking and drinking way too much.

I never got the point of this story. It was a misfit for me. It has gotten lots of great reviews, but not from me.
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
I'm not sure how to rate this novel - I was all for starting with 'don't judge a book by negative reviews', but then the second half of the story, or lack thereof, depressed me into dropping a star. I'm all for dysfunctional characters, but there has to be some development, for either the better or the worse. These two misfits just seemed to dance around, causing each other pain, for 250 pages. Any sympathy stirred by their situations in the first few chapters quickly evaporated, and I was willing for one or both of them to move on.

Marianne and Connell meet in the last year of school, when Connell's single mother goes to clean at Marianne's house. She's from a wealthy background but socially awkward and not well liked, he's poor but popular. They find themselves drawn to each other and he sleeps with her, but won't acknowledge her in public. Connell doesn't see a problem with this, and Marianne goes along with his 'rules', until he pointedly asks another girl to the Debs. 'He didn't do anything bad,' he excuses himself. 'He had never tried to delude her into thinking she was socially acceptable; she'd deluded herself.' They stop seeing each other, but end up studying at the same college, where she becomes the popular one, and Connell feels left out.

So what, you're thinking, they're only teenagers, they'll grow up and realise they love each other. Connell will stop treating her like dirt, and realise that Marianne's emotional vulnerability - thanks to a gaslighting mother and abusive brother - should make him protective of her, not proprietary. Nope! They continue their awkward relationship through college, sleeping together but not really liking or respecting each other, while Marianne feigns disinterest and Connell finds new and subtle ways to put her down. He even thinks about hitting her, at one point, knowing that she would let him! Marianne also has relationships with 'psychopaths', as Connell calls them, who are simply more direct in subjecting her.

I could sympathise with both characters to start with, Marianne because of her family and Connell because of his inferiority complex, but they don't grow! They don't change! Marianne doesn't come into herself at college, Connell never realises what he has in Marianne, at least not enough to treat her better, and even at the end of the story, they're still trapped in the same vicious circle of gratitude and pity. And they have pretentious discussions about everything but how they really feel, which drag on for ages.

I wanted to like Marianne and Connell, and they did stay with me, but there is just no point to their pain.
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LibraryThing member oddandbookish
I received this book for free from the publisher (Hogarth Books).

I was so excited to read this book because Sally Rooney’s other book, Conversations with Friends, is one of my all time favorite books. Because of that, I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, this book didn’t quite live up to them.

There were a lot of things that I did like about this book. One being that I loved the writing style. It’s very beautiful in an understated way. I also have no issues whatsoever with the no quotation mark format that Rooney utilizes. I think it fits in well with her style.

I also loved how the story delves deep into the characters and the psychology of Marianne and Connell’s relationship. It felt very intimate.

Additionally, there were some passages that I really loved. On pages 71-72, I loved the paragraph describing Connell’s love of literature. Then on page 100-101, I loved the paragraph about Marianne and Connell’s discussions after sex. These two paragraphs are just some of the many examples of the beauty of her writing.

On the flip side, what I didn’t like was that the story wasn’t that interesting. In Conversations with Friends, I loved the premise and things actually happened. In this book, there was just a lot of going back and forth between the characters. They would get together, then they would split, then they would get back together. It just didn’t interest me as much. I also wasn’t satisfied by the ending. It fell flat for me.

Overall, this book didn’t live up to my expectations, but don’t let that stop you from reading it for yourself.
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LibraryThing member Jthierer
I didn't dislike this book as thoroughly as some people did, but it definitely wasn't the instant classic others found it to be either. Connell and Marianne are definitely realistic examples of the self-absorbed, too-cool-to-communicate, drama llamas I knew when I was in my late teens and early twenties...but I find that the problems and particularities of this set are really only interesting to others in that narrowly defined group. Once life and (hopefully) maturity age you out of that band, you realize how petty and insufferable 90% of the conversations you used to have were and you laugh a bit at your younger self. In a book with better language or sense of place, the fact that the main characters are deeply unlikeable might not be a deal breaker, but Rooney's prose is more than a bit wooden. Altogether, I'm glad this was a short book because I didn't want to spend more than a couple hours with these people.… (more)
LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
There are parts of this that are hard to read: Why do they insist on doing these things that hurt themselves emotionally? Why are they so damaged and damaging?

There are parts of this that are a joy and delight to read: Her writing is stunning in a simple and straightforward way, not the kind of literary fiction where the sentences have 100 words when 10 will do but the kind of literary fiction where each word is selected thoughtfully and it just feels right.

I can't say I got something from Marianne's life, or Connell's, but I would read something else from Rooney any day of the week.
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LibraryThing member nicx27
I read this book back in April but I've waited until now to review it because I wanted to watch the television adaptation and contrast and compare.

This is a beautiful story of Marianne and Connell who meet at school in Ireland. Marianne is bolshy, fierce, yet oh so vulnerable and at times naïve. She's essentially broken in many ways, not least because of her family. When they initially spend time together Connell is the popular guy at school and Marianne is the misfit. What's interesting as the book progresses is the way their roles reverse, especially when they go to Trinity College in Dublin. The power in the relationship switches between them more than once.

Make no mistake about it, this is a love story but it's a problematic one. No two characters need their heads banging together more than these two. And yet it's so achingly moving and tender it struck right at the heart of me. I'm a sucker for a story about star-crossed lovers and characters who are drawn to each other despite all the odds. It feels like Marianne and Connell are attached by invisible elastic which, no matter what, brings them back to each other.

I admit that when I got to the end of the book I felt disappointed. I wanted a different ending for these characters I had become so invested in. But having thought about it since, and having seen the adaptation, I think it's probably the only ending that would have worked. Where I initially wanted to stamp my feet at the ending, I'm now sagely nodding my head.

Most book lovers prefer the book to the film or TV version, me included. Having now worked my way through the series I have to say that I have rarely seen a more perfect adaptation. Little has been changed from the book and what has works beautifully. The acting is spot on and I honestly don't think any other actors could have played Marianne and Connell better or more sympathetically. Their portrayal is stunning and the whole series has a mesmerising cinematic feel to it that had me spellbound.

Normal People is a very special story. It's about peer pressure, fitting in, family, being a student, being a son or daughter, but above all else it's about love. Pure and simple love. It's wonderful.
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LibraryThing member pomo58
Normal People from Sally Rooney is a wonderfully understated novel that in many ways reflects what a reader brings to it. Not in a sense of necessarily looking into or at oneself, though I think that will happen quite often, but rather in a sense of reflecting whether a reader just wants a passive reading experience (those will likely dislike it and complain that little or nothing happens, or that because they don't like the characters the book is bad) or wants to engage actively with the book (those may well like or dislike the book but it will because of what the active engagement offered them). So read between the lines of reviews and try to discern if they engaged or not and whether you yourself want to engage.

Rooney's writing is sparse yet touches on the minutiae of everyday life. But the little things, what gets noticed by characters, or not noticed, that offers insight. The insight starts with looking into the characters, then their community, then the world of the work, then the real world we live in. There is very little difference between the last two but they are different, one is fictional with real events included while ours is, unfortunately, all too real. The writing makes this a potentially quick read but I would suggest going a little slower and trying to inhabit their world. This is fiction, you're perfectly safe temporarily living there even if you don't care for some of the characters. I don't like all the "characters" in my real life yet I live here just fine. Maybe try to understand why they do or don't do what they do rather than simply make a blanket judgement that it was stupid, foolish, or, of course, you would never do anything so obviously illogical or irrational. And of course your friends would all be the first to agree with you that you are, indeed, a perfect human being and never ever make irrational decisions.

Yes, you will be frustrated with much of what happens, angered at some of the things as well. Probably embarrassed for them at times. What they are doing "wrong" is indeed relatively clear, not rocket science there. Whether you can empathize for a few hundred pages with flawed characters is less about how good or bad the book is and more about what kind of person you are. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were caught, repeatedly, doing things that might not reflect well on you.

Rooney addresses, but stops short of trying to offer a prescriptive solution to, many questions. Why and how do we try to fit into our community? Even not bothering to try is a tactic, so standing "above the fray" is more of a coping mechanism than a solution. What about our lives make us use whatever tactics we use? How conscious are we of the masks we wear? Is there even a real face under all those masks if we have had to wear a mask of some sort even in what should be our safe places? What is love? different types of love? friendship? Are we ever, even when we are aware of what we have been doing, able to go our own way and be that changed person or do we resort back to what we did previously to cope?

Some have complained that this is strictly for millennials. Well, I guess I am a 60 year old millennial. Either that or rather than being for a specific age group it is for a particular type of empathetic reader who sees the human core of life's problems, no matter what age group might be shown.

I do understand that Rooney's style won't appeal to everyone (not counting those who don't want to read actively, they need to stick with books that, as one said, "entertains" them). I happen to be one who finds her writing and insights to be effective and moving. I would recommend this to any reader who likes to engage with the hows and whys (from the character's perspective) of flawed characters' actions. I think the vast majority of you will like the book. I started to say enjoy but it is a dark book most of the time and, while there is an element of enjoyment in reading a well-written dark book it also sounds odd to say I enjoyed reading about depression, abuse, bad relationships, etc. But you get the idea.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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LibraryThing member Slevyr26
I’m devastated. I’m fine. I choose to believe that no matter how far the other goes for however long, these two will always come back to each other in the end. So the ending, for me, was a positive one. Connell will come back after a year to Marianne. Or Marianne will go to him. But they will be together again because they have to be. They are ‘two plants sharing the same plot of soil.’ … (more)
LibraryThing member knitwit2
The writing is very sparse. The author doesn’t use quotation marks, which I find distracting. Marianne and Connell begin a secret high school hook-up relationship. Connell is popular, Marianne is a social pariah. Connell’s mother is a housekeeper of Marianne’s family. Connell insists on secrecy. They go off to college when they meet up the tables have turned Connell is a nobody and Marianne is popular. They resume their relationship which is public at college but not at home. Connell is obsessed with what other people think. They break up repeatedly over miscommunications and various misunderstandings. Marianne gets into abusive relationships with men because her father and brother were abusive. I read this book in one day which may be why I disliked it. The characters were narcissistic and while both were “top of their class” they were idiots when it came to each other. It was too much intensity to be read in one sitting.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheEllieMo
The best thing I can say about this book is that it’s better than Conversations With Friends. Two very flawed individuals involve themselves in an on-off toxic relationship time and time again. It all got a bit repetitive.

I’ve tried to understand the hype that surrounds Rooney’s book, but I’m afraid I just don’t like her style of writing at all. Dull passages, under developed supporting characters, and so much telling instead of showing.… (more)
LibraryThing member breic
The stakes are small, and I can't say that I identified with the characters or their situations, but still… Occasionally, the dialog, the descriptions, the mistakes and regrets felt completely real. I loved the writing.

"Outside her breath rises in a fine mist and the snow keeps falling, like a ceaseless repetition of the same infinitesimally small mistake."

"Connell hasn’t commented on any of the Facebook threads, but he has liked several comments calling for the invite to be rescinded, which is probably the most strident political action he has ever taken in his life."

"He finds himself rushing to the end of the conversation so they can hang up, and then he can retrospectively savour how much he likes seeing her, without the moment-to-moment pressure of having to produce the right expressions and say the right things. Just to see Helen, her beautiful face, her smile, and to know that she continues loving him, this puts the gift of joy into his day, and for hours he feels nothing but a light-headed happiness."

"At this point in the session Yvonne starts to hand him worksheets, illustrated with large cartoon arrows pointing to various text boxes. He takes them and pretends that he’s intending to fill them out later. She also hands him some photocopied pages about dealing with anxiety, which he pretends he will read."

"Cherries hang on the dark-green trees like earrings. He thinks about this phrase once or twice. He would put it in an email to Marianne, but he can’t email her when she’s downstairs."

And even though the stakes are small and the setting pedestrian, there is something epic about the tale of the relationship between the two troubled characters, Marianne and Connell, as it develops not over a lifetime but over just a few years as they grow up.
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LibraryThing member angiestahl
Buzz on this one was strong and high and it was billed as literary fiction which sold me on it. While not poorly written, I'm probably (almost undoubtedly) older than its target audience. I didn't hate it, but I didn't appreciate it either -- thus, the middling rating.

This is a sexual coming-of-age that revolves around a couple who meet as teens in high school when they start hooking up. They hook up, but never make their relationship status official with their families, friends or each other. This goes on and off and then on and off ad nauseum throughout their college years and beyond.

Both characters are wounded-bird types. In high school, he's popular; she isn't. Her family has money; his doesn't. In college, the power balance flips - she's popular; he isn't. Apparently, they're attracted to each other in part because of their shared literary and academic brilliance (eyeroll emoji).

Neither character exhibits strong emotional wellbeing. She particularly has faced serious abuse which affects relationship choices she makes later in which she allows herself to be sexually and physically abused (and in fact, sexual desire and abuse become conflated for her).

The abuse (emotional and physical) first from her family and then from her lovers is made quite clear without being explicit. If anything, it's treated almost too casually - as if it's just a normal, regular thing that one deals with as a teen.

I think it's supposed to feel very modern, mature, and sophisticated. Maybe it does read that way if you're 20. To me, it read more trite and shallow, leaning toward disturbing with the abuse. Not a painful read, but empty calories.
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LibraryThing member mcelhra
Normal People starts when Connell and Marianne are in high school in a small town in Ireland. Although Connell poor (his mother cleans Marianne’s mother’s home), he is athletic and popular in school. Even though Marianne comes from a wealthy family, she’s kind of a weirdo and doesn’t have any friends. She and Connell strike up a friends with benefits type situation but Connell insists they keep their relationship a secret, worried that if it gets out he’s sleeping with Marianne, it will lower his social status.

They both head to Trinity College, an elite private school in Dublin. There the tables are turned. Marianne fits in with the other wealthy students, while Connell feels like an outsider. My favorite line in the book is Connell’s observation of the other students at a party:

“It was culture as class performance, literature fetishized for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterward feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.”

Throughout college, Marianne and Connell break-up and get back together a few times, dating other people in-between. Their break-ups are usually precipitated by some sort of misunderstanding. The kind that makes you want to jump in the book and shake them. Just communicate with each other for goodness sake!

Some of the reviews I read after reading Normal People indicate that its theme is class. While that didn’t jump out at me as the theme while I was reading it, looking back on it now, I can see that it is about class to some extent. Marianne and Connell are definitely of different classes and it does have an effect on the way they each see the world and relate to one another.

Normal People has also been called the first great millennial novel. Speaking as a Gen Xer, I can see why it’s been called that but I think that anyone can appreciate it, although maybe not as much as a millennial might. My book club that is made up of mostly baby boomers were lukewarm on it overall. I enjoyed it enough that I plan to read Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends, which is supposed to be fairly similar and just as good, if not better. Normal People has been made into a limited series on Hulu which I also plan to check out. I’ll keep you posted on what it’s like.
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LibraryThing member smallwonder56
Really neurotic characters. Every time I thought they might have learned something, they made another stupid decision.
LibraryThing member oldblack
I'm old. I tend to prefer stories that I easily connect with. So I was surprised that I liked this book (and indeed her previous novel). I don't think it's a wonderful book, but it does tell a story with some interesting and worthwhile insights about relationships. Although focusing on university age people, there's enough of a universal message to keep my interest. The main characters, Marianne and Connell, have been born into troubled families and so it's not altogether surprising that their own relationships and sense of self and self worth are fundamentally disturbed. I found Rooney to present a surprisingly conservative perspective in this book, and I suppose that's something that appeals to the older readership (such as me and maybe even the Man Booker committee). In fact, the only 'good' person in this novel comes from (almost) my generation: Connell's mother. We don't learn much about her, but her direct honesty and self-knowledge is a clear contrast to all the other characters.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
Maybe it's due to a generational gap, maybe to cultural one, but I found this story uninspiring and uninteresting. The style is flat, the characters dull and the plot predictable. The whole novel seems to revolve on what people think of each other, all of them living in each other's judgment. The important theme of domestic abuse is treated almost as a by-line; although it is resolved, we never know why or how it started and escalated. I couldn't identify with any of the characters who seemed lifeless and aimless to me.
It's a coming of age with none of the magic of better known, and better written, novels. I'll keep guessing as to reasons of its popularity.
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LibraryThing member ML923
This book did not work for me at all. The main characters were wholly dislikeable, and I found Rooney’s writing style somewhat tedious. I am surprised I finished this, but I kept hoping it would get better because of all the great hype it had received. Very disappointing.
LibraryThing member Cariola
I liked this book but was not as enthralled as the Booker Prize judges apparently were. It's an in-depth look at the changes in a relationship between Connell, a brilliant and popular high school student, and Marianne, a brilliant and unpopular classmate. The two come from different walks of life: Denise, Marianne's mother, employs Connell's mom, Lorraine, as a cleaner. Although Connell ignores her in school, he enjoys his conversations with Marianne as he waits at her house for his mom to drive him home. The two soon fall into a sexual relationship that both enjoy, but while it's pretty clear that Marianne is in love, it's less certain whether Connell feels the same. But when they both start at Trinity University, both change. Suddenly, Marianne is the confident, admired one, and it's Connell who feels like he doesn't belong. Although they part ways in different social groups, with different lovers, and in different geographical locales, the bond between them is never completely broken. It's love, but what kind of love? Are they better off as lovers, friends, or friends with benefits?

The close study of the characters as well as their relationships is very well done. Connell, raised by a single mother, is close to Lorraine, and it's clear that her parenting has made him into the confident, sensitive young man he has become. Still, his desire to be like everyone else--to be a "normal person"--eats away at his authentic self. While Marianne has the benefit of family wealth, her father died when she was younger, her mother is indifferent, and he older brother is abusive. She, too, wants nothing more than to be a "normal person." We watch as the past and things beyond their control changes they way they see themselves and the way the world sees them, as well as their own relationship.

The writing is fine overall, but there are some awkward similes. For example: "He holds her tightly, his body adjusting itself to hers like the kind of mattress that's supposedly good for you." I guess the last phrase kind of makes it work because it questions whether these two are really good for one another; but bodies as Memory Foam mattresses? That one hit me hard.

Normal People is an interesting and complicated story, but it won't be on the top of my list of books read this year.
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
Had a hard time putting this one down. Looking forward to reading more by this author.
LibraryThing member alexrichman
I didn’t like the last one - but Rooney’s won me round with this. A sort of highbrow One Day (or lowbrow Lesser Bohemians), it’s a love story that seems destined to linger in the memory. I felt it pulled a few punches - and threw a few wild ones that missed the mark - but I finally see what the fuss is about.
LibraryThing member jphamilton
This is a fabulous novel that follows a young couple as they become friends, become sexually active, and then drift apart. Well, that's certainly nothing new, but it's the superb writing that reveals a great perspective into who these people are, even when they aren't sure themselves. I have read reviews and comments about this book, in which some have put forward the label romance novel.
Romance novels are an area of great ignorance for me, as I haven't read a romance since my early days working at Waldenbooks. I sat in the backroom on my breaks and read a Harlequin monthly romance novel, just so I knew more about maybe why people were buying so many of them each and every month. I didn't solve the mystery of the romance novels in those few hours, but it gave me a great story to tell.
Sorry to digress. When we first learn about the book's main characters, the unpopular, very smart, Marianne, who's family is rich, distant (and worse), and Connell, who's incredible popular, athletic, and from a much lower class, but close family ... and his mother works as a housekeeper for Marianne's family.
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LibraryThing member villemezbrown
A sad little on-again, off-again romance reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally with 90% less humor and 100% more BDSM. Though there are a couple lulls, it mostly clocks along nicely for a quick little read. The characters are by turns, fascinating, frustrating and cliched, but worth the time spent with them.

Side note: This is the third book I've read in as many months that foregoes quotation marks, and I do hope this is not a trend that's gathering momentum because I quite miss them when they're gone.… (more)
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Connell and Marianne start a relationship in high school. Marianne's an outcast, the kind of loner to puts on an air of disinterest in her classmates, but who longs to be included. Connell is part of the popular crowd, but as the son of a single mother who works as a housecleaner, he is painfully self-conscious about his place in the world and wants to keep his relationship with Marianne secret. It's not until they meet again at university in Dublin, where their social roles have reversed, that they begin to see each other openly. But their relationship is fraught by social expectations, by the habits of their shared past, by an inability to converse honestly.

Sally Rooney can write, and she writes conversations better than most, but while her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, dove into the relationships between people, this novel stays much closer to the surface, substituting drama for insight into Connell and Marianne. I found this book simpler and less interesting than her first, and the repetition of some of the scenes and circumstances (the al fresco dinner at a holiday home, a character believing that being employed was pointless...) made me wish I'd left a longer span between the books.
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1984822179 / 9781984822178
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