I can’t remember the first moment Sally Rooney came onto my radar. One minute, I knew nothing about her. The next, I was hearing her name everywhere. As soon as I picked up Normal People, I realised Rooney was the author I didn’t know I needed. If she isn’t yet on your radar, she should be.
She has never believed herself to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.
Normal People was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It won the Costa Novel Award and shot to number one on the Sunday Times Bestseller list. The book was spoken about on every podcast and publicised on every social media platform. A novel with such hype around it always makes me a little nervous. I couldn’t help having high expectations. I wanted to love it as much as everyone else did. Luckily, Normal People didn’t disappoint. In fact, it did the exact opposite.
No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.
The book follows protagonists Marianne and Connell through their school days, university lives and beyond. The two begin as best friends, become closer, drift apart and come back together again multiple times over the course of the story. This isn’t a book with crazy plot twists, alternate realities or lengthy action sequences. It is a book which deals with the intricacies of humans and the way we interact with others.
She closes her eyes. He probably won’t come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy.
Maybe the book hit me hard because I’m currently a university student, so I have even more empathy for the characters’ struggles with body issues and the pressures of studying, for example. However, university student or not, the beauty of Rooney’s writing is how she manages to capture feelings and experiences we have all had, whether last year or fifteen years ago.
If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed.
Rooney’s writing style is simple, which is not a critique in any way. As a writer myself, I admire how she manages simple without veering into simplistic. Through her narration, Rooney exposes how the most difficult situations in life are all a matter of perception. If there’s one thing I learned from this book, it’s that relationships will always be complex, but they are complicated because we make them so. When it comes down to it, we are all normal people living normal lives. And more books should be written about that.
Normal People is published by Faber & Faber and is available here.
Sally Rooney was born in 1991 and lives in Dublin, where she graduated from an MA at Trinity College in 2013. Her work has appeared in Granta, The White Review, The Dublin Review, The Stinging Fly, Kevin Barry’s Stonecutterand The Winter Pages anthology. Conversations with Friends is her first novel.
Follow her @sallyrooney
Reviewed by Alice Kouzmenko
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