Normal People by Sally Rooney
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Reviews
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.
“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)