Lockdown reads: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Now I know some of you are probably watching the adaptation of this book into a 12-part TV series – it is currently available on BBC’s iPlayer and getting rave reviews. I haven’t watched it yet though I full plan to.

But if you have just started it don’t worry.

WATCH: Normal People via BBC iPlayer

I promise, as always, not to give away too much of the story or plot in this review, just give you an impression to allow you to make your own mind up whether to read it or not  – or indeed watch it.

This is an unusual book in these days where novels are usually dark, dramatic and with big twists – actually these are all in there but in a  much more subtle way.

Another striking point is the way the novel is laid out – no quote marks are used to denote the segue between narrative and conversation – but even I  as journalists and a daily quote mark user user got used to that very quickly.

This is first and foremost a study of people, of relationships, of mental health, of sexuality and the impact that birth and circumstances beyond your control can have on your life – but it’s also story of young love with all its mistakes. 

The author was herself just 27 ( she is now 29) when she wrote this so the smoky, studenty, Dublin seems straight from her experience –  like her characters she too was a student at Trinity College where she was elected a scholar in 2011.

So the emotions are freshly reaped, the modern realities and impressions of modern Ireland and life in sharp relief.

The book’s two main characters are the beautiful, privileged and damaged Marianne who comes from a rich but emotional cruel family – so strange she has no friends at school despite or maybe partly because of her remarkable intellect. 

Then we have Connell, the son of Marianne’s mother’s cleaner,

The product of a young single mother, he is popular and admired at school – he’s football team popular – you know the type. But he also has a more sensitive side.

Their relationship in their later schooldays is intense, sexual and hidden.

Connell keeps Marianne a secret and without self esteem, she doesn’t mind, which makes her seem other-worldly and somehow numb.

Neither character seems particularly likeable although together they make much more sense. They are like an equation adding together and multiplied makes a whole.

But nothing is ever that simple.

Other characters in the novel seem grey to this couple’s hyper-colour, they are more evident for their emotional impact on the two main characters than personalities themselves – they are background artistes.

Their parents in particulat, presumably the architects of their issues, are almost pencil drawings in a full colour artwork.

When they both go to university in Dublin the tables turn, their relationship changes and the pressures, anxieties and shared past are examined as their lives diverge. 

Suddenly Marianne is the popular one and Connell the odd man out in a class-sensitive environment.

It becomes clear that is not just Marianne who is the damaged soul, Connell gradually sinks deeper into his hopelessness and they both make mistakes and struggle with the everyday. 

A bit like butterflies, they swoop and dive into each other’s lives with an inevitability they can’t quite make into make a solid real thing. 

Marianne finds herself attracted to those who hurt her, both physically and mentally, Connell to safe choices which he can never make stick. 

Normal People was a Costa Book award winner – it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and is widely available.

So if you don’t watch the TV series read the book – or perhaps both if only for perhaps, proof, that nobody is normal.

Normal People by Sally Rooney, available in all good outlets, but if you feel you can support your local book business delivery service online at this time – please do.

I’ve picked one of my local bookshops here (no affiliation) EBB & FLO

You can also read about:

Black River by Will Dean

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter


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