Professional Reader

normal people book review

Normal People by Sally Rooney. The feverishly anticipated second novel from the young author of 2017’s most acclaimed debut Conversations with Friends.

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

Duffy’s Thoughts On Normal People

I am one of the few bookworms who is yet to read Conversations With Friends and so this is my first glimpse at Sally Rooney’s work.  There is no doubt that Rooney is one talented writer and her gift for creating characters with such richness and depth is really quite something. However, this book just didn’t sit well with me. Why? Marianne was so submissive as a teenager which shaped her into the type of girl that longs to be loved, continually letting men walk all over her and seemingly happy to pay the part of waiting for a crumb of attention from the boy at school, Connell.

I champion books about women with strength of character and overcoming the odds, and poor Marianne was just the opposite and the characters, although detailed and nuanced, became cliched at the end to the point where I even let out a little groan at the last chapter. This left me conflicted between the excellent writing, an accurate portrayal of the life of a young woman and the consequences (or lack of) of the characters. I found it uncomfortable that some rather toxic and dangerous character traits were celebrated almost, rather than becoming someone’s undoing.

Normal People is a pretty accurate description of just how bloody difficult it can be growing up in a small town and navigating adult relationships. There were certainly a few moments that pricked my own not so happy memories of first boyfriends, being shown up at school, and feelings of complete inadequacy, but the overarching story left me feeling hollow.

If you head to Goodreads and other reviews, you will see plenty of 5star reviews and I’ve even read that Normal People has been optioned for a TV series in its first week of release! No mean feat, so there is something there in this story, but I couldn’t find it.  For me, I was left feeling sad, empty and wanting to give Marianne and Connell a damn good talking to.

Published by Faber & Faber/Allen & Unwin. Grab your copy here

Released September 1

RRP $29.99

normal People book review