Notable Novels: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

Rooney’s prose is as intimate as a warm hug and excels at building an atmosphere that is personal enough to lead the reader into a state of deep introspection.

Sally Rooney's novel.
Photo Courtesy / Crown Publishing Group
Torch Design / Daniela Yarahuan

Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel accompanies two magnetic and complex protagonists for years as they journey through adulthood. “Normal People” tells a story of mutual infatuation, friendship and love between two people— Marianne and Connell— whom we come to understand even in their most notorious contradictions and disagreements. It is an achingly bittersweet story about the complications of human relationships and explores the connection between sex and power, the mourning of the loss of youth and the desire to love and be loved. 

Marianne and Connell are high school classmates when the novel begins. Marianne comes from a wealthy family and is very reserved and often detached from the rest of her peers. Connell is an outstanding athlete and lives with his mother, who had him as a teenager and now works for Marianne’s family. 

The contrast between their realities seems to act as the catalyst for their spontaneous and inevitable chemistry. Eventually, their brief, occasional encounters quickly transform into long conversations about their anxieties and ambitions. They share similar worldviews and envy each other intellectually; their mutual fascination stems from an attraction that goes beyond the physical.

One of the most pleasant aspects of this novel is its author. Rooney wonderfully manages to incorporate a substantial amount of relevant themes into a fluid and addictive narrative, regardless of the acidity of some of its most poignant passages.Her way of weaving Connell and Marianne in-and-out of each other’s lives is painfully enjoyable. 

Rooney’s “Normal People” offers an emotional and character-driven coming of age story with not much of a plot whose focus isn’t solely the sporadic romantic relationship of its protagonists, but the dissection of their innermost insecurities, thoughts and feelings as a case study of modern connections. 

Her protagonists are as real, as lost, as simple or complex and as normal – or abnormal – as any person can be. Marianne and Connell are flawed and insecure; they make mistakes and hurt as much as any young adult does. They go from being complete opposites to almost indistinguishable from each other to strangers again multiple times over the course of four years. The unpredictability of their connection is what makes “Normal People” a frustrating yet particularly human read.

The novel, however, also possesses somewhat of a flawed nature that results from the incredible potential that Rooney leaves unexploited. The protagonists stand out for their intellect — which Rooney uses to address complex issues like mental illness and misogyny unpretentiously — yet they never seem to lead to any conclusive events. Nevertheless, Rooney’s smoothness and literary prowess make this shortfall barely noticeable. 

Only 266 pages long, this novel is the ideal quick read for those looking for a break from the usual cynicism and apathy so commonly found in contemporary literary fiction. Rooney’s prose is as intimate as a warm hug and excels at building an atmosphere that is personal enough to lead the reader into a state of deep introspection. 

Anyone who has considered picking up this book should expect to see a reflection of themselves in Rooney’s characters, through their mellowness and their longing; their selfishness and their roughness. In short, Normal People is the perfect angst filled story for anyone who seeks to be moved by literature.In addition to winning multiple literary awards and being longlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize, “Normal People” was recently adapted into a one-season standalone series on Hulu starring Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, with Rooney credited as the show’s co-screenwriter. Although I am yet to see it, there is no doubt in my mind that this adaptation is just as moving and compelling as its literary counterpart.