To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, One and For All, One of Us is Lying, The Duff - all these novels incorporate the opposite social status trope. The popular boy and nerdy girl exist in different worlds, but come together in love for one another. Normal People by Sally Rooney is no exception. Marianne is an unpopular, blundering, teenager who many feel is repulsive. Connell, conversely, is a shy, sensitive, jock who turns girls’ heads frequently. They are brought together by a forced interaction, which leads to a moment, beginning their on-again, off-again relationship. Despite the criticism this book endured, I feel the novel is well-written, captivating, and most definitely not “normal”.
Rooney toys with the idea of uncliche cliches, basing her story around a commonplace idea, but introducing awkward dialogue. “I don’t care you’re blushing, I won’t tell anyone you know, obviously” (Rooney 11). Both the grammatically incorrect structure of Marianne’s words in this quote and the nervousness that is prevalent allow readers to relate to the dialogue and connect with the story. Furthermore, the lack of quotation marks in all dialogue enhances personalization. While reading it, I became more invested in the story, as I could see the interaction play out right in front of me. Essentially, the absence of quotation marks breaks the barrier between the reader and author, allowing the reader to insert themselves into the storyline.
I also appreciated how the author enables the reader to relate to the various characters. Both Marianne and Connell attract a different fan base, some feeling that Marianne has attachment issues that Connell handled well, and others arguing that Marianne is a character unfairly treated by Connell and the people around her, and she is still thriving in spite of it. Personally, I agree. with the latter. Marianne is not only a character that is strong, brave, and beautiful, but one I can relate to. I was never the most popular kid in school, considered too studious and too easily overexcited. While children similar to Connell are regarded as “cool”, the term is foreign to both Marianne and I. She has real feelings that she is not afraid to express, evidenced by her directness when she says, “I like you” (Rooney 12) and “no, no just as a friend” (Rooney 18). Marianne later struggles with powerlessness, and the doubt that she should be in control of her own life. I occasionally feel the same way. It would be easier to leave my fate in the hands of someone else, as I often mistrust that I will make the right decision. Both Marianne and I are clumsy in action and mind, but we both know that we possess qualities - intellect, kindness, and honesty - that we know will steer us in the right direction.
I do have reservations about Normal People, however. The author weaves many topics into the story, including depression, submission, anxiety, and abuse, but most are fleeting. Rooney includes them, almost as if just to check a box, then fails to explore the topics properly throughoutthe rest of the book. One idea Rooney tries to address is Marxism, with Marianne a part of the bourgeoisie and Connell the proletariat. Class structure is present in the book, with Connell’s mother working for Marianne’s, but is only briefly addressed. Marianne does not acknowledge the fact that she thrives at her and Connell’s college, Trinity, due to her wealth, until Connell specifically discusses it with her. She mentions that she never thought they were different despite their economical classes, while he says she should. The conversation ends there, never to be brought up again. To some, it may feel sweet that together they overcome class, but to me it feels too abrupt. Communicating such an expansive topic requires a message behind it, a lesson to be learned about the author’s commentary on society regarding it, but Rooney barely incorporates Marxism itself. The Great Gatsby, for example, does an admirable job of taking a side in the topics it presents. It addresses Marxism as well, but shows the bourgeoisie in a negative way through Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s disregard of Gatsby's and Myrtle's lives. While not everyone may agree with the novel’s standpoint in this respect, the author feels strongly about his stand, and conveys it well.
Normal People by Sally Rooney is an inventive tale, and stands out against works that include similar ideas. It would certainly appeal to readers who appreciate romance, as well as history and travel, as the setting takes place in Ireland during the Irish economic downturn of 2008. If you liked book such as Call Me By Your Name, which also deals with unlikely romance and poor timing, or Fates and Furies, which takes love and varying points of view to a higher level, or of course, Conversations with Friends, the chronologically first book in the series, then you will surely enjoy Normal People.