Normal People by Sally Rooney has been described as „the most enjoyable novel of the year“ by the Daily Telegraph. And indeed: I could hardly put it down — until I definitely needed a break near the story’s end because it was just too much. Too much sadness and missing that hit my very personal mark. For me, Rooney’s book was not enjoyable in the pleasant way one might expect reading this sentence on the cover of a book. It did not make me laugh, but it made me think. It was like a tornado of hurt that got hold of me. Gripping, interesting. A deep and intense story with intense characters. An emotional rollercoaster ride full of mental abysses and missing people though running towards them at full speed. Which the book description did not prepare me for and which I did not associate with the term „enjoyable“. Normal People got hold of me and I willingly gave myself to it. But I did not enjoy this book in the common sense of the expression.
“This ‘what?‘ question seems to him to contain so much: not just the forensic attentiveness to his silences that allows her to ask in the first place, but a desire for total communication, a sense that anything unsaid is an unwelcome interruption between them.“Normal People, Sally Rooney, p. 25
Connell and Marianne are from the small Irish town Carricklea. They visit the same school. But apart from that, they have hardly anything in common. Marianne is from a wealthy family, but her father has died and she spends much of her time alone, reading. She does not have any close friends. Connell, in contrast, is popular at school and in his sports team. His mother, Lorraine, is a cleaner and works for Marianne’s mother. Marianne‘s and Connell‘s classmates do not know about this connection between the two of them, but Connell regularly picks Lorraine up when she finishes work. On these occasions, Marianne and Connell meet. And one afternoon, they have a conversation which at first glance seems rather random but turns out to be not random at all.
“She would have lain on the ground and let him walk over her body if he wanted, he knew that.”Normal People, Sally Rooney, p. 34
First, they merely become friends with benefits. But over time, a complicated love story develops between Connell and Marianne. They cannot stay away from each other, regardless of how hard they try to or how much they wish to love other people. Certain things both of them do and especially certain things they do not do made me angry throughout the book. One reason for this might have been the truth that lies in the way Rooney describes the irrationality of their actions. Then there were other parts where I rather pitied them for what they wanted but could not get because I could identify with them wanting someone so badly it hurts but at the same time knowing that having them would probably hurt even more.
All in all, even though Normal People was not an easy read for me, I found this book brilliant. It is one thing to take readers on an exciting adventure packed with action or horror, but a completely different achievement to make them stick to a story that, by itself, is not that thrilling. Connell’s and Marianne’s love story is not full of extraordinariness. It is not common, either. It is a prototype of an abnormally sad connection between two souls in need of each other. And, though I am not an especially negative person in general, I think that for a sad love story, it is packed with truth.