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 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 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 jessicadelellis
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 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 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 mooingzelda
Normal People follows the on-off relationship between Marianne and Connell from their late teens through to their early 20s. It's an unconventional love story as well as a story about mental health, fitting in and the fluctuating nature of friendship, while also touching on class issues.

I enjoyed this much more than Conversations With Friends, which is written in a similarly introspective, pared-back style but features a cast of almost wholly unlikable characters. Normal People was so much easier to get into because I found Marianne and Connell to be relatable in many ways, and I ultimately found myself rooting for them to get some sort of happy ending.

I also lost count of the number of phrases and passages that expressed things a lot of us think or feel, but struggle to turn into words - Rooney really has a quietly intelligent way with words.

This isn't an easy read in terms of some of the topics explored, but it's definitely one to race through in a day or two!
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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 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 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 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 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 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 ASKelmore
Best for:
People who enjoy coming of age stories that are (or try to be?) a bit edgier.

In a nutshell:
Marianne and Connell are classmates in a small town in London. His mother cleans her house. They do not run in the same social circles. Things transpire, and they grow up.

Worth quoting:
“Committee members of college clubs, who are dressed up in black tie very frequently, and who inexplicably believe the internal workings of student societies are interesting to normal people.”
“In school the boys had tried to break her with cruelty and disregard, and I in college men had tried to do it with sex and popularity, all with the same aim of subjugating some force in her personality. It depressed her to think people were so predictable.”

Why I chose it:
It’s being promoted in all the bookshops. The bookseller at the shop close to my work (where I tend to wander on lunch breaks at least once a month) claimed it was even better than her last book. I disagree.

Connell and Marianne are from different walks of life - his mom is a single mother who, among other things, cleans the mansion of Marianne’s family. Marianne’s father is dead, her brother is cruel, and her mother is uninvolved (and also possibly cruel? Unclear). They are both smart, and they become friends via hooking up. Then they part ways but reconnect in college. Each chapter is a skip in time (sometimes three weeks, sometimes three months, sometimes five minutes) and usually — maybe always? I don’t have the book anymore — alternates between the two characters. The bookseller described it as a ‘will they / won’t they,’ but it’s really a ‘they did, and probably will again, and is that a good thing?’

I get what the author was going for here, but I don’t think it worked for me. I’m not sure how one can successfully do coming of age across five or six years (instead of, say, over the course of one year of high school or college), but I don’t think this is it. By the end of the book I still saw the characters as teenagers playing at being adult, even though they did have very real issues and concerns. And even though the entirety of the book focuses on these two individuals, I don’t get a sense of who they are, really. Connell is meant to be deeply written, but I don’t leave feeling I know much about him. Marianne I felt gets a bit more development, but the way her story is handled seems almost salacious for the sake of being salacious. Which, I guess makes sense? I mean, I don’t know how else the author could have written those components, but they still didn’t work for me. Overall I’m disappointed.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it (to the vacation rental home I was in when I finished it)
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LibraryThing member alanteder
Normal People can be a Mess.
Review of the Faber & Faber hardcover (2018) edition

There was an element here that repulsed me somewhat, about which it would be a spoiler to go into details (probably other reviews will mention it though).

So it is a bit of a mixed rating. There was a lot of good truth here about the miscommunication between people that can lead to break-ups. About the things left unsaid that would have made a difference at the time but which you cannot go back to repair. So all of that was well written. I might have given it a 4 rating in that respect. The issue mentioned above though kept it well away from 4 (Really Liked It) and 5 (It was Amazing). So it becomes a 3 (Liked It).
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LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
Just couldn't get interested or invested in this story. Stopped reading after 75 pages, just too many great books waiting for me.
LibraryThing member GirlWellRead
A special thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada/Knopf Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A coming-of-age love story of classmates Connell and Marianne. He's a the popular star of the football team and she is the mysterious loner. Connell's mother works for Marianne's family and the two begin a complicated and secret relationship that starts when Connell comes to Marianne's house to pick his mother up from work.

Fast-forward a year and they are both students at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has come out of her shell and flourishes socially while it is Connell that is struggling to fit in. Throughout their time at university, they ebb and flow in each other's lives, always drawn back together. As Marianne starts a downward spiral into self-destruction, Connell and Marianne must face just how far they are willing to go to save each other.

Rooney explores the complexity of relationships, the obsessive and possessive elements of first love, what class and social standing really means, and the entanglement of families and friendships. She nails the disconnect that many teens experience with the real world and also with how self-absorbed they are while trying to find their place in the world.

What I found exhausting about the book on a whole was how stereotypical the characters were. The women wanted attention and to be loved, all the while not realizing their worth. The male characters were lacking in morals. Just like the jock character in a teen movie, they are 'boys being boys' and this is perfectly acceptable (cue eye roll). She also pens some vile characters that blur the lines with things like bullying and neglect that aren't fully explored, instead they simply vanish.

The writing was poignant and stirring; this book had so much potential but I couldn't see beyond what I mentioned above.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
The book title is the irony of ironies: why should beautiful, broken, brilliant people ever strive for "normalcy", whatever that is? This story, encompassing four years in the lives of Marianne and Connell of Sligo, Ireland, reads like the interior unwindings of two pairs of brains, hearts, and guts - always in harmony despite being unable to do what they say and say what they mean. Connell, son of a struggling single mother, is smart, popular and athletic. Marianne, shunned by other students, is from a terrible home of wealth and privilege, ignored by her mother and brutalized by her brother. Avoiding public attention in their tiny town and cramped social circle, they establish a secret relationship that enriches and defines them. Their social statuses reverse after high school as they matriculate to Trinity University, a prestigious institution dripping with wealthy dilettantes, where Marianne achieves cachet and Connell is miserably lonely. Through their college years, their lives intertwine and break apart for all the wrong reasons. Yet they are truly dependent on each other for rescue and for succor. This novel is overflowing with tenderness, brutality, and bleak and shining truths. It's truly deserving of all the critical acclaim it has achieved. But would a man feel it as I did, deep in my conscious core, on many levels? Don't know, don't care much, just wondering.

Quotes: "Generally I find men are a lot more concerned with limiting the freedoms of women than exercising personal freedoms for themselves, says Marianne. I mean, when you look at the lives they're living, it's sad. They control the whole social system and this is the best they can come up with for themselves? They're not even having fun."

"Their conversations are gratifying for Connell, often taking unexpected turns and prompting him to express ideas he had never consciously formulated before. At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronization that it surprises them both. Knowing that they'll probably have sex again before they sleep probably makes the talking more pleasurable, and he suspects that the intimacy of their discussions, often moving back and forth from the conceptual to the personal, also makes the sex better."

"The literary events were attended only by people who wanted to be the kind of people who attended them."
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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 bookworm12
The novel follows two Irish teenagers through years of an on and off again relationship. They are deeply connected, but both troubled, insecure, and prideful. No author is required to make their characters likable, and these two certainly aren’t, but the writing captures a vulnerability that’s hard to express. They are both broken in different ways, but somehow stronger together. I didn’t love the book, but I look forward to reading more from this author.… (more)
LibraryThing member djcuthbert84
After reading, it feels just a little wrong to give this book five stars, as it almost seems Sally Rooney would not think something could or should be considered perfect or close to. But in Normal People, she has created a wonderful accomplishment in this tale of the often delicate relationship between Connell, a popular high school soccer player who finds college life a bit more difficult to take, and Marianne, a self-defined outcast who’s eventual coming out turns from thrilling to terrifying and everything in between.

Over a period of four years, we watch the dance between these two figures, sometimes partners but more often merely figures swirling on the same dance floor. In an often stream-of consciousness style of writing, in which conversations between characters are not even blocked off by quotation marks, Rooney paints a brilliant portrait of life, love, and makes a powerful argument about what it means to be “normal people.” Profoundly political, she eschews the idea of politics as battles between parties for a more personal argument of it being the often confusing way people search to understand themselves and their place in the world. I could not help but find myself flying through this story, as her way of not separating her characters spoken interactions with the rest of the tale ends up sucking you in so much that you feel like you are watching a live play rather than reading a story.

It is hard not to get a little skeptical when you hear a work profoundly praised and proclaimed a “masterpiece,” but Rooney has certainly created a fantastic little tale that will cause you to pleasantly lose several hours of time before your nose rises from behind the pages.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
I wavered between a 3 and a 4 here, but honestly there were many points in the book where I was sure it was going to be a 2 and others where I had no doubt it would be a 5. I really don't know what to do with this.

Starting with the craft. Rooney is a good writer. While she can get a bit melodramatic at times, her prose is mostly quite spare. She leaves so much space for the reader to do some work and bring herself to the prose but still the story remains accessible. That is a hard balancing act. So much popular fiction is overwritten. Rooney though tells us a great deal about each character through the tiniest everyday actions. The story is in the way they grip the steering wheel, make the coffee, explain things, or clean the counters. The main characters are closed off people in many ways, Marianne is particularly detached, but we still understand their motivations and actions for the most part through their choices and in/actions

For the final 2/3 of the book I thought it was quite good (until the ending, which I either thought was terrible or great, and I truly don't know which side I will ultimately come down on.) I really appreciated the unsentimental but entirely empathetic approach Rooney took to Marianne's masochism. The relationships, both between Marianne and Connell, and between each of them and others in their respective social groups and families, were interesting and nuanced. There was no dime store psychology, the characters had scars that were clearly connected to their upbringings, but also many that were of unknown origin, and both also had strengths the origin of which was completely unclear. Like life.

So far it sounds like its all good, but IMO it is not. I really disliked the first part of the book where Connell and Marianne are in in high school. I understand that it set up the rest of the book, but most of this was unnecessary and all of it felt like mediocre YA. Some of that YA feel could be found later in the book - a particular beef is that these characters bravely share their feelings and insecurities, unless it serves the story for them to suddenly clam up entirely rather than to ask a simple question and for that silence to cause damaging misunderstandings. I really hated when Connell said he had to go home for the summer, out of nowhere, and Marianne never said "why?" This would be part of a standard dance in a romance novel, but it stings here because the best part of the book is the way in which Marianne and Connell "get" each other even when no one else seems to understand them, and the way they choose to act, or not act, on that which they understand is really interesting. These moments where they are willfully obtuse and passive aggressive don't mesh with that understanding, and its pretty irritating.

So yeah, I am conflicted. Overall though, I really enjoyed reading the book once I got past the first 50ish pages. I wanted to spend more time with Connell and Marianne to find out about the next act. I skipped doing other things to read. That is as good a test as I can come up with for determine wither something is better than okay - for me a 3 is "okay." As a second test passed, I am going to go back and read Rooney's first book so I liked it I guess?
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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 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 shazjhb
Amazing book. Somewhat disturbing. Well worth reading.
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is a well-hyped book by a 28 year old Irish writer. She has been greeted with much acclaim so I decided to read it. It was a good book but not up to the rave reviews. The story is about an on again off again relationship between Marianne and Connell that takes place in Ireland. She comes from a rich family and is an outsider in high school. He is a son of a single mom who had him at 17 and cleans Marianne's house. The story deals a lot with social class as well as the insecurities of 2 young people coming of age. It covers 4 years of the relationship. The writing style is simple but there is too much description of trivial activities that add nothing to the story. There is also the frustration of the missed communication that comes from the domination of modern techniques such as texting, email etc so that major story line changes occur that should not have happened. The book does give an insight into younger people and the choices they have to make. This is not my favorite genre but if you are interested in this current under 30 generation, then it might be worth your time.… (more)




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