A Review: Normal People, Sally Rooney

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Right, I’m not going to lie. I got about 20 pages into this and I thought ‘well nothing’s happening nothing will ever happen when will something happen please I need an event’ And I got about 50 pages in and realised actually nothing was going to happen.

I’ll be honest, I could read any book and even if I hated it, there’s always something about the process I love. So usually, if I finish a book I quite like, I’ll immediately hail it my favourite book of all time. It’s bit like a honeymoon period I think – I’m still not sure if that makes me a good book blogger or not.

A sign of a good book for me, is one that you’re still thinking about a week after you’ve finished it. And Sally Rooney’s Normal People is definitely one of those, it threw so many questions into the air that I can’t find the answers to.

All in all I read it in about three sittings which is actually crazy for me because I’m a slow reader and often lose my space in a page so need to track it with my finger (yes like a six year old).

Rooney’s style is extremely fluid in characterisation and narration. The dialogue is always clean, and words are never wasted. The main characters Marianne and Connell have extremely discernible tones which is made more impressive as there aren’t any speech marks to mark dialogue. This also breaks down the barriers between dialogue and subconscious thought. Marianne and Connell’s relationship is a defiance of what someone may think of a modern relationship, on the surface they seem to operate on little pretence, or complicated thought. 

However, the great characterisation from Rooney reveals much deeper, and more complex elements of their relationship beyond the fluidity and freedom that exists on a surface level. The character’s mental health is very much a catalyst for their individual actions during their relationship, which motivates a lot of the mental and emotional abuse that occurs throughout. 

The narration is sometimes so jarring and uncomfortable that you feel you’re intruding into their minds. This is what I found interesting, so many people I’ve spoken to have said they didn’t like the characters but for me it’s not about like and dislike (if anything, any combination of words that evokes a strong reaction or sentiment is instantly a green light). You’re allowed to explore their intimate thoughts and experiences which no doubt effected the way I digested their actions; good or bad. 

But in Normal People particularly, I’m not sure the characters are there to be liked. They’re so established as real characters almost like Rooney has no control over them. They experience so many complex, raw thoughts that make people uncomfortable because there aren’t any goodies and baddies. You’re forced to read their unprocessed, subconscious thoughts, and make your own mind up. 

A wonderful way to watch a painful journey. 

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