It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.Sally Rooney, Normal People
I will be honest with you. When I began reading this book, I was stunned. I had a hard time believing that anyone (a young author at that) could be this honest about a man-woman relationship. This sparkling honesty stood out in every sentence and character graph. Not to mention in the character descriptions and the strangely distant narrative. At times it was discomforting to read. Disillusioning too. I didn’t like to think of love being this difficult. People – this vulnerable and reticent. I wanted a shortcut, a magical sweep, a leap of fiction. A relief. A romantic escapade maybe…
Sally Rooney made sure that I remained terrified, sensitized, and immersed in the roller coaster ride of Marianne and Connell’s journey – that began in school and ended in the final year of college. Rather, in the final year of the illustrious Trinity College.
This is a novel about two smart individuals who are struggling with self-identity, friendships, family, love, and more. In a world that seems to grow distant with each passing minute. A world that’s here now, gone perhaps as life happens.
Marianne is bright academically. Connell is a genius. They are both introverted and extroverted at different times of their lives. There are no clear ways to describe them really. No easy way to compartmentalize them as good and bad. If those distinctions still hold sway in your life – in mine, it most certainly doesn’t.
One comes from a rich but sick family.
Another is poor but is raised by a loving, single mom.
Their power equation is one-all. If in school, Connell exercised control; in college, it’s Marianne who seems to be in control.
Although, I am using the word ‘control’ here, I must affirm that they are both struggling in their own ways and none can be viewed as strong and formidable. And the world that they inhabit is so fragmented, conflicted, banal yet real that not even once do you feel that the author is hogwashing her way through the story. It appears palpable. It so is.
Having said that, I must confess that mid-way through the book, I ran out of steam. There was no major crisis. The minor characters came and went without doing much. Plot twists weren’t enough to keep the love story going. The author’s voice despite being sparse, distant and hard-hitting turned monotonous.
But once, I crossed these barriers and kept reading, I was rewarded by last 50 odd pages of extraordinary ending.
Also, there were so many wise cracks in the book that I had a tough time choosing a quote. The one I use in the beginning which is a jibe at people who think reading makes them superior is my favourite. Something I feel strongly about as well.
In conclusion, a quick look.
- Rooney’s voice which is honest and compelling. Her life-like characters and their inner worlds.
- Her ability to remain nonjudgmental.
- Her narration technique which is simple, direct and detached. Almost taciturn like Marianne and yet so damn powerful.
- She is the author to look out for. Trust me, she is worth your every rupee spent on that paperback. A compliment I can give to no other contemporary romance writer. Definitely not Nicholas Sparks! Not even Helen Hoang.
- Lack of goosebumps-inducing plot twists.
- The bumpy pace.
- The voice which turns drab somewhere in between. But, picks up at the end.
Do read, Normal People. There’s one place in the book where Marianne says, Why can’t I be like normal People? And that sums up this jewel of a book for me, probably sums up my life as well.
Almost forgot! Hulu has made a film out of the book too.